Ringtones redux

Cell phone ringtones have been the subject of scholarly investigation for at least a decade; approaches to them have ranged from the practical to the postmodern.

The earliest academic study that we know of is “On the ringtones of cell phones (携帯電話着信メロディーについて)” in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of Japan (社団法人日本音響学会) LVII/11 (2001), pp. 725–728. Legal aspects were explored the following year in “Die Lizenzierungspraxis der GEMA bei Ruftonmelodien: Rechteeinräumung und Rechtefluß” by Jürgen Becker in Recht im Wandel seines sozialen und technologischen Umfeldes: Festschrift für Manfred Rehbinder (München: C.H. Beck, 2002, pp. 187–198).

Then the cultural theorists began to take note. The stage was set by discussions of aspects of postmodernism and colonialism in “The semiotics of cell-phone ring tones” by Erkki Pekkilä in Musical semiotics revisited (Helsinki: International Semiotics Institute, 2003, pp. 110–120). Recent cultural analyses have included “The musical madeleine: Communication, performance, and identity in musical ringtones” by Imar de Vries (Popular music and society XXXIII/1 [February 2010], pp. 61–74) and “What does answering the phone mean? A sociology of the phone ring and musical ringtones” by Christian Licoppe (scheduled for future publication in Cultural Sociology).

Above, heeding the summons of a ringtone in Bangladesh.


Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Reception, Science

3 Responses to Ringtones redux

  1. Just letting you know that my book, The Ringtone Dialectic: Economy and Cultural Form (MIT Press, 2013) is now out in print. (See mitpress.mit.edu/books/ringtone-dialectic for more information.)

  2. Sumanth Gopinath

    Hi there,

    Thanks for this informative list. You might find my essay on ringtones also of interest, “Ringtones, or, The Auditory Logic of Globalization,” First Monday 10/12 (December 2005), available online at . (The essay is presently being revised and expanded for a book on the global ringtone industry and its cultural ramifications.)

    Licoppe also has a nice essay in the Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies, ed. James Katz (MIT Press, 2008), “The Mobile Phone’s Ring,” 139-152. Noriko Manabe has written on ringtones in Japan in Internationalizing Internet Studies: Beyond Anglophone Paradigms, ed. Gerard Goggin and Mark McLelland, “Going Mobile: The Mobile Internet, Ringtones, and the Music Market in Japan,” 316-332; and “New Technologies, Industrial Structure, and the Consumption of Music in Japan,” Asian Music 39/1 (Winter/Spring 2008), 81-107. Another early study of note is Heikki Uimonen’s “‘Sorry, Can’t Hear You! I’m on a Train!’ Ringing Tones, Meanings and the Finnish Soundscape,” Popular Music 23/1 (January 2004), 51-62.


    Sumanth Gopinath
    Assistant Professor of Music Theory
    University of Minnesota