How can I turn a song in iTunes into a ringtone for my iPhone?

Ringtones are one of the easiest way of personalising your iPhone, and until the Apple Watch is realeased they are also the best way of telling you who is calling, without taking your phone out of your pocket. Simply allocate specific songs to certain people and you'll instantly know when they ring due to the dulcet tones of Metallica or Taylor Swift. Just be careful not to insult them in the process. After all, if your boss accidentally rings you while they're sitting in the same room, only to hear 'Frankly Mr Shankly' by The Smiths, it might cause a dip in your career prospects.

The process of setting a song as a ringtone is actually somewhat convoluted. You might think it would be a simple case of finding your contact, tapping on their details, then allocating a song - and eventually it is - but before then there's a bit of work to be done. To take you through the steps we've created this guide using iOS 8 and iTunes 12 as the basis. Those with previous versions of either program will find the that the steps are basically the same.

See also:

[Feeling creative? Here's how to create your own ringtone for your iPhone]

How to set a song as an iPhone ringtone

Set any song as a ringtone on your iPhone: Select and edit a song

The first thing we'll need to do is choose a song in iTunes to use as a ringtone. Open up iTunes on your Mac or PC and click on the My Music tab. Choose a song that's on your hard drive then right click on it, choose Get Info, then click the Options tab.

How to set a song as an iPhone ringtone

Within the main panel you'll see settings for Start and Stop. A ringtone can only be thirty seconds long, so use these settings to isolate the part of the song you want then click OK. You won't be deleting anything on the actual track itself, so don't worry.

Now highlight the song, go up to File at the top of the screen and select Create New Version>Create AAC version. iTunes will duplicate the track, but if you look closely you'll see that the new version is only thirty seconds long. That's the one we'll use for our ringtone. Remember to go back to the original track now and untick the Start and Stop options, otherwise the track will only play that short section.

How to remove exclamation marks and play problem songs in iTunes

How to set a song as an iPhone ringtone

Set any song as a ringtone on your iPhone: Change the file type

Highlight the short version of the song, then right click and select Show in Finder. Now you'll see the two versions of the song. The duplicate should have a 1 at the end of the name to differentiate it, and of course the file size will be smaller. To use it as a ringtone we'll need to convert the file type from .m4a to .m4r, which involves clicking on the name once to highlight it, then once again to edit the name so we can change the last three letters. Finder will then ask you if you are sure you want to use the new file type? Choose 'Use .m4r' in the pop up box to confirm. Leave the Finder window open for now, as we'll use it again in a moment.

How to set a song as an iPhone ringtone 

Set any song as a ringtone on your iPhone: Delete the shorter track

Return to iTunes and delete the short version of the track, remembering to check the length carefully before you do so. When prompted choose Keep File, as we want to remove the track from our music library but not our computer entirely.

 How to set a song as an iPhone ringtone

 Set any song as a ringtone on your iPhone: Import the track to iTunes as a ringtone

Go back to the Finder window and double click the shorter file. Rather disconcertingly it will disappear from the box, but start playing in the background. Don't worry, it isn't really gone. Return to iTunes, go to the row of icons in the top left corner and click on the three dots. This brings up more options, one of which is Tones. Click this and you'll see that the short version of the song is now a ringtone.

How to set a song as an iPhone ringtone

Set any song as a ringtone on your iPhone: Sync the ringtone with your iPhone

Connect your iPhone to iTunes and click on the little phone icon just to the right of the three dots. This will bring up the iTunes panel for your phone, from which you want to select Tones in the left hand column. Once inside click Sync Tones>Selected tones>then the track you've created. Finally go to the bottom right hand corner and click Apply.

How to set a song as an iPhone ringtone

Set any song as a ringtone on your iPhone: Set the new ringtone

 All that remains to be done now is to go to Settings on your iPhone, then Sounds, and you'll find the new ringtone at the top of the list. Tap on it to select it as your general tone.

How to set a song as an iPhone ringtone

 Set any song as a ringtone on your iPhone: Set different ringtones for different people

If you want to allocate different ringtones to different people then it's very easy. On your iPhone go to the Contacts app, select your person, then tap the Edit option in the top right corner. This brings up the option for Ringtone, which will most likely be set to Default at the moment. Tap on this and the full menu will appear, allowing you to select whichever one you deem appropriate. Now whenever that person rings you'll know their name by the sweet sounds they make.  

 How to set a song as an iPhone ringtone

Read these advanced iOS 8 tips you don’t know yet 

Find out how to make space on an iPhone when you need it

Follow Martyn Casserly on Twitter | Follow Macworld UK on Twitter