Create an iPhone ringtone from a Voice Memo recording

A friend recently asked me if it’s possible to make an iPhone ringtone from a Voice Memo recording. The answer is yes, of course! This article describes how, step by step. You might want to do this for several reasons. Humor is one, of course, but why not have a few friends, the kids or a relative use the Voice Memos app to record themselves saying, “It’s me,” then use that as a custom tone for those contacts? It’s fun and easy. Here’s how to do it.

Recording the voice memo

Apple’s Voice Memos app reminds me of businessmen in movies from the 1980’s who were always reciting important tidbits into pocket-sized tape recorders. Today, Voice Memos lets you do something very similar, minus the cassettes and the DeLorean. To make a recording, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the Voice Memos app.
  2. The main window appears. To begin your recording, tap the red Record/Pause button on the left.
  3. A “ding” signifies the start of a recording. When you’re finished, tap the Stop button in the lower right (another “ding” signifies the recording’s conclusion).
  4. The list view appears and your newly-recorded message plays back.

That’s it! You’ve made a recording. If you’re satisfied with it, great. If not, tap Done in the upper right-hand corner and try again. Before we move on to the next section, I’ll offer a couple of notes. First, watch the needle while you’re recording. If it’s spending a lot of time in the red, your source is too loud. Back away or reduce the volume if you can. Also, you can trim a recording if you’ve got some unwanted sound at the beginning or end. Here’s how.

  1. Tap the blue arrow next to your recording’s title while in list view.
  2. The info window appears. Tap Trim Memo in the lower left-hand corner.
  3. The edit pane rises from the bottom of your iPhone’s screen like a phoenix (above) [1. This might be an exaggeration.]. At the top is your recording itself, in yellow. There’s a “handle” at each end.
  4. Drag the handle(s) past the part you want to exclude.
  5. Tap the play arrow to ensure you’e got it right.
  6. Tap Trim Voice Memo.

That’s it. The edit pane disappears and your memo has been edited to your liking. Be aware that this is destructive editing. That is to say, there’s no undo and the original recording will be overwritten with the trimmed version. It’s editing at its most rudimentary (the audio equivalent of cropping a photo), but useful in its own way. If you’re all set, it’s time to move on to the next step: getting it off of your iPhone and onto your Mac.

Getting it Onto Your Mac

You can sync the voice file with iTunes, or email it to yourself from within the app. Since we’re dealing with such a small file, email is the easiest. To email a memo from the app, do the following:

  1. Tap the desired recording to select it while in list view.
  2. Tape Share in the lower left-hand corner.
  3. The share pane appears. Tap Email.
  4. The email compose window appears. Enter your address and send it off.

Easy. Now, head to your Mac, retrieve that email message and open GarageBand. First, a quick note on file types. I’m using an iPhone 4S running iOS 5.1.1. It records voice memos at .m4a. Macworld notes that other devices may use other formats:

“Voice memos are recorded in different formats according to the type of device you have. I found that my 4th generation iPod nano records in Apple Lossless format, even though Apple says that voice memos are recorded in WAV (an uncompressed format). My current generation iPod classic does record in WAV, but offers two quality levels, both in mono: the first at about half the size of a normal WAV file, and the second at one-quarter the size.”

All will work for what we want to do, but I couldn’t resist sharing that geeky diversion anyway.

Import Into GarageBand

Now for the fun part. Let’s get started.

  1. Open GarageBand and select “iPhone Ringtone” from the startup screen.
  2. Double-click Voice. Give it a name, select a save location and the main GarageBand window appears. We’re ready to go.

It’s important to note the yellow “recycle region” bar. This repeats a section of music (or in our case, the recording) over and over. In other words, it allows your iPhone to ring more than once! If you followed the previous steps, it will be in place. If not, click the recycle region button at the bottom of the screen (just to the right of the counter) and drag the yellow bar to the desired length (more on that in a moment).

Create the Ringtone

With everything set up, it’s time to add our recording. Simply drag and drop it into the project. You might have to adjust the length of the yellow recycle region. That’s simple enough, just drag either end to fit the length of your recording. Click the Play button at the bottom of GarageBand’s window to test it out. Before we save our creation, there’s one thing to note.

For some reason that no human being will ever understand, Apple cranks up the reverb on new GarageBand projects to unholy levels by default. It’s extremely annoying and needs to be undone. Fortunately, it’s simple to fix.

  1. Select the track that contains your recording by clicking it.
  2. Click the Info button (“i”) in the lower right-hand corner. The info pane appears.
  3. Click Real Instrument, then Edit.
  4. Find Master Reverb in the lower right-hand corner and slide that sucker to the left. You needn’t get it down to zero, but don’t go over 5%.

All set? Cool. Now, lets get this thing on the iPhone. But first, a note on thoughtful ringtone creation.

The one thing about the majority of ringtones that bothers me is their insistence. That is to say, the sound is played, there’s a pause of one second (or less) and then it’s repeated. There’s no need to inundate me or others in my vicinity with that sound over and over. I heard it, and I’ll get to it if/when I can. I suggest dragging the recycle region far past the end of your ringtone, so that you get a good 10-Mississippi before it repeats. Everyone with functional ears will thank you.

Sync It To Your iPhone

The ringtone has been created and tested. Now let’s get it on your iPhone:

  1. Click the Share menu and select Send ringtone to iTunes.
  2. iTunes launches and plays the ringtone. Note that it’s in a special “Tones” playlist.
  3. All you’ve got to do now is sync your iPhone. The new ringtone will be available in the Settings app.

Select it in Preferences

Finally, it’s time to activate the new ringtone on your iPhone. Here’s how.

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Sounds then Ringtone.
  3. A list appears. Find your custom ringtone and select it.

Done! Enjoy your creation. For extra fun, assign your new ringtone to a contact by selecting that contact and then tapping edit. Next, tap Ringtone and navigate to the one you’ve made.

Have fun creating ringtones. Just don’t make anything too obnoxious, OK?


  1. Note: if you trim the file to be shorter than 30 seconds, you can just duplicate the file (as in, copy and paste it to your desktop or such), change the file extension from .m4a to .m4r and open it. It will import into iTunes as a ringtone. That way you don’t have to use garageband at all (I personally don’t have a copy of it).

  2. This posting was very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to spell things out for us Apple newbies. You’ve helped me make my first experience a great one.

    1. Laura, I suggest reading the article above. Let’s just say if the answer was a snake, it would be so close it would bite you.

  3. Actually, I tried doing what manyyyy suggested (changing the .m4a to .m4r) and I’ve had no luck with that at all. iPhone 4s and latest OS and version of itunes, and nadda. If the shortcut works for you, more power to you. But I didn’t know that using garageband (a program I once loathed and wondered its very existence) would be fun and practical for me. And once you follow it step by step, you realize its not even hard to do at all. Know I am going to go hunting for sound clips and make ringtones that I’ve always wanted!!! I finally wont have to pay for rightness anymore. :))

    And thank you so much for the steps. They were simple, easy to follow and worked 100% for me. I will pass this along to friends!

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