Some phone-y music ringing in the ears

custom ring back tunes

Songs jolting you out of your hold on the phone or melodies that string instead an aura in pleasantness, such strums of the soulful and the spirited alike playing out through the ‘merely essential’ device of the phone might not be as much a phenomenon now than what it used to be just a few years back but those who have experienced indeed that era and genre of ‘music’ yearn still for the charm residing in those quintessential expressions in telephoning. Instantly identifiable as an evoking in emotions asserting itself through the generic caller tune allusion even when it happens to be only a particular unfurling of it, this very enjoyable, then almost indispensable facet of everyday life used to command for itself a craze so prominent that users often subscribed readily to these plans in absolutely submitting to marketing indeed a tactic of the telecoms.

Of course there prevailed also a costless way in flaunting one’s musical affiliations but in a somewhat different consideration. Unlike caller tunes that greeted the person on the other side of the phone, ringtones were- or rather are- entertaining of the one who sets them in the first place. More ‘affordable’ in their downloadable status rather than in having to avail as a service of some sort, ringtones were also equally, or perhaps somewhat more popular but they still did not entail the luxury of commanding for the downloader of them a power of having others essentially listen to their choice of music.

ringing tones
Source: First Monday

Caller tunes, or ringback tones more properly, prevailed in their privilege of being both a means in showcasing ‘wealth’, albeit of not exactly wealthy definitions, as also in the sheer sense of ‘superiority’ they endowed upon people though honestly none of these considerations would have probably struck anyone ever when they took to this fad of the times in much enthusiasm. Of course it is all fiction over fact in what we are saying but imposing unrealistic, often exaggerated essences upon actually unassuming entities and identities have forever been the ideal in romanticising and what better than something almost a whiff of nostalgia today in its very rare assertion to regard in so much pomp and fancy?

It had been roughly around the turn of the century that caller tunes came to be, following not so late on the heels of the custom ringtone created in the late years of the ’90s. That was the time when phones blaring loud and clear in the public was a very coveted means in attraction, perhaps because the trend of sporting a mobile phone on their person was rather new and therefore exciting a prospect in consideration. Cut to a couple decades later, or even quite some years preceding it, and so very out and there phones in their ringing revelation is a big no- no for whatever reason and in every season. The transition might strike as one too dramatic to be real but real indeed it is and in such assertion differently defining the singular dimension of a specific space.

It might have been somewhere in a Finland of 2001 that the first ever ringing tone scouted out for itself a scope in much spectacularity. But perhaps nowhere more popular has been this rendition of the phoning spectrum than what it has been mostly in some countries of the world’s eastern terrain. And consider the case of India in absolutely making the most out of this service in offering- and in such extent as well that has the folks of that identity standing true once again to their adhering to the ‘paisa vasool’ prerogative and caller tunes sure have not been explored to such limits of the potential that they otherwise perhaps would not even have known to be harbouring of.

Taking over the Indian narrative at a time not much removed from that first flicker of its existence has been the caller tune that set out to dictate musical terms of phone-in references across this cultural expression of a country known for its fetish with Bollywood numbers and equal soaking up of the tunes and notes of the soulful and the devotional as well as vibing to beats streaming from across the seven streams. And thus emerged this anticipatory interest in dialling up someone’s number as an opportunity not just in connecting personally but also through the forever universal medium of music and melodies.

It didn’t matter if the one calling would be the friend or foe, boss or subordinate, family or relative, kith and kin of the person concerned- they would all be greeted with the latter’s choice of music, whether that be a rampantly abusive desi song blaring out or a witty one liner delivered not even very much musically or one of the current global chartbusters or a ram naam jaap instead or why not even an insanely popular advert jingle. And so would all and sundry be party to the subscriber’s taste in song selection, some cringing, others enjoying, still others even singing or humming along through that duration of the wait to all be inevitably engulfed by a something that had indeed been all the rage for a considerable period of time in telephonic history.

This whole business of the caller tune thing did amount to much substantialness, driving up as it did not just the revenues of telecom companies but also essentially those of the music providers. What’s more, they even came to be more accurate a gauge of the chartbursting character that the latest musical releases are often subjected to in description as being the immensely popular, hit song driving a whole nation of people crazy enough to sing and sway along with it. For in spending money upon something needed to be considered indeed in whatever degree of prodding and thinking, such numbers that would boast the most number of downloads against their name would for sure have to be the uber cool ones. And not just such lyrics already making music of their own, ringback tones also came to feature the promotional jingle of an upcoming release as a very effective marketing tactic that attended at once to the cause of both business and entertainment measures of it.

Soon after, more precisely curated custom callertunes too came to be, offering the user even a more personal avenue in expression as they allowed the scope for ‘originals’ to be set as the default ‘tring- tring’ along that line of the telephonic connection. This can very well pass off perhaps as a gimmick in garnering attraction, something that the world of those times was rather pleased to call upon itself. Counter that with the current ‘trend’ in more individualistic an expression of living and caring about what plays through one’s phone to reveal to another is as passive a consideration as perhaps the merely cursory interest in someone hardly even an acquaintance.

history of caller tune

Of course this change in the character of expression can also be attributed to the drastic change in what has entailed in pretty much every realm of existence. In the more relevant present day where streaming is the way in musical musings, it is understandable just why the charm once associated with musical numbers playing through the phone is no longer able to manifest its pride and prestige. For if one takes into perspective the time period in which ringback tones dominated the domain, there would emerge a very clear cut definition adhering to those years of yore almost when downloading music was the way to enjoy it. The prerequisites in this case might not have been very demanding but the ‘pains’ indeed of surfing for one particular song to be downloaded out of the data available on those miserly limited internet packs meant that getting to flaunt one’s love for that currently reigning melody was worth whatever money it took, which might not present as much of a price for many. But consider in retrospect the average cost of one of those ringing tones that was more than double the amount of a full mp3 download and one would well understand the dynamics of all that made up this very musical business.

However, it is quite a surprise as well, this fact that the custom ringing tones of phones would go on to become so much of a success so as to define the experience of an entire era in this regard and even with considerable cost incurred on that front for the customer forever on the look out for rate cutters and sms packs- jargon again specific to that particular phase of the telephonic world. And what sums up even greatly the spectacularity of its success is the facet of its essence being rooted in such nature that makes it liable for the ‘user’ of the service, who actually happens to be the ‘provider’ in this case of entertaining instead their callers as very interesting a working scheme of affairs, to at times even forego the knowledge of their subscription meaning that they might not even know it once their plan has expired.

Of course the barrage of messages and reminders that these service providers so devotedly continue to bombard one with means that one is unlikely to lose trace of where they stand when it comes to a service of this kind. But consider also the as prevailing notion in ignoring messages from anyone even remotely resembling of those network people, what with notifications then rarely allowing a rough idea of the actual contents of what it is that found mention, and the caller tune service might have very well met its doom even sooner.

billboard ringtones chart
Source: The Avocado

However it had been the increase in popularity of the iPhone that might have been the greater factor in ringing tunes having to face the music of death, in India as well as everywhere else in the world. But not before it had come a long way indeed, from the monophonic notes of the late 1990s to the polyphonic assertion that followed, leading thus to explore such heights of popularity that even commanded a reputation along the Billboard ranks with an exclusive Billboard Ringtone Chart dedicated to outlining the best ‘selling’ ringtones and also a Billboard Ringtone of the Year award further validating this diverse expression of musical inclinations.

That callertunes or ringing tunes or for that matter even the more general ringtones are as good as dead now is a sad reality indeed and one that tends to be even sadder for the those of us who have lived through those golden years of our phones blaring music even if for the sake of just a call. An ironic thanks is therefore what we all owe to the coronavirus epidemic that once again brought back the ringing assertion as something different from the universal, even when this time it has been a rather monotonous slew of words marking this domain to almost overrule the specific charm of what otherwise alludes to this musical medley of myriad musings.