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What are Ringbacks?

Shannon Kietzman
Shannon Kietzman

Ringbacks are segments of songs that are used with cell phones. When a person calls someone with ringbacks, he or she hears a song the cell phone subscriber specifically programmed for that caller. Instead of hearing the traditional ring while waiting for the person to answer the phone, the caller enjoys the personalized song provided by ringbacks.

In order for ringbacks to work, the cell phone subscriber must program the phone to recognize the caller’s phone number. Then, the subscriber programs the phone to play a specific song for the caller as he or she waits for the phone to be answered. In other cases, a cell phone subscriber may select a single song to play for all callers, rather than personalizing the ringbacks.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

Ringbacks are not the same as ringtones, as ringtones are the sounds the cell phone subscriber hears when receiving a phone call. Ringbacks are not necessarily heard by the cell phone subscriber, but rather by the caller. Although ringbacks are of radio-quality, they are not intended to play an entire song or to be used just to listen to. Rather, cell phone subscribers purchase them as a way of personalizing their phone and demonstrating what type of music they enjoy.

Ringbacks were originally introduced in Asia, where they were an immediate success. In fact, they quickly outsold ringtones. They were first introduced to the United States in November of 2004 as a partnership between Sony-BMG, Warner Music Group, and Verizon. Today, most ringbacks cost approximately 2 US dollars (USD) and require a monthly subscription fee. These subscription fees are usually about 1 USD.

The use of music on cell phones for ringtones and ringbacks has become such a popular trend that music executives are looking for ways to specifically target their music to this niche. In fact, many music and market analysts believe full track distribution of albums will eventually be completed via cell phone downloads. Many experts believe this will occur within the next couple of years and will account for approximately 28% of total music sales.

Discussion Comments


@shell4life – Mobile ringbacks are really not that expensive, especially if you don't mind using the same one for every caller. That's what I do, and I've had several of my friends tell me that they love hearing something other than a bland ringing when they call me.

I just pick a ringback that I think is appropriate for everyone to hear, and I buy it. It only costs me $2, plus the $1 subscription fee, so I'm only out $3 a month. That's a small price to pay for the entertainment it provides.

I usually let my phone ring three or four times before answering it. This allows the person on the other end to experience the ringback.


My boyfriend actually broke up with me in a very cowardly way. He used the song lyrics in a mobile ringback to let me know that we were over.

At first, I didn't get it. I thought that the ringback was a strange choice of song to play to callers, and I had my friend call his phone to listen to it. When the generic ringback played for her, I realized that this ringback had been tailored specifically to me and our situation.

It was a terrible way to get the news. I think that may be even worse than getting broken up with via text message!


While they sound cool, I don't think I would be able to bring myself to pay a monthly fee for ringback tones. I always think it is neat when I call someone and hear something other than the usual ring, especially if the phone has to ring for awhile before it gets answered. I appreciate that the person I am calling did this for her callers, but I guess I'm not quite so thoughtful!

If it doesn't come with the phone, I probably won't ever purchase it. If they ever start handing out free ringbacks, though, then I might participate in this nifty little idea.


That's what ring tones are for, duh. Ringbacks are just a creative thought to personalize your phone. I think it's a great idea.


ringbacks sound like a pretty good idea to me. a friend had it, and i was surprised to hear music playing when i called. it's a fun way to further customize your phone, and provides the person calling you with a few seconds of pleasant music to listen to while waiting for you to pick up!


The person calling hears the custom ring, not the person being called? Sounds stupid.

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