Ring out the old.
From Leicester Mercury
It was a time-honoured teenage
ritual. If you liked music you watched Top of the Pops, you listened to the
Radio 1 chart every Tuesday lunchtime at school and then, crucially, you went to
the shop and bought your favourite 45s. Not only that, but you would tune in
again next week to see how your single was doing; grimly willing it upwards,
hanging on to Mike Reid or Simon Goodier's every word.
Not any more. Sales of singles are at an all-time low.
Increasingly, today's kids are more likely to be singing when they're ringing.
The thrill has gone, replaced by the trill. This year, for the first time ever,
mobile phone ringtones - downloadable clips of music - are set to outstrip sales
That, says Jason Hamilton, assistant manager of Loughborough's Left Legged
Pineapple record shop, means another nail in the coffin for local music
Leicester's Ainleys store is about to close after 40 years and more record
sellers could soon follow suit, believes Jason.
"Our business is being snipped away by about 20 different factors," he explains.
"Sales of singles have slumped since the mid-90s. Ringtones are bound to have an
impact. People only have so much money to spend." For the uninitiated, ringtones
- pop songs or TV themes you can buy and put on mobile phones - are the latest
Sales of ringtones (each costing about GBP3 for a 30-second soundbite) are set
to be worth GBP112 million in the UK this year - making them bigger than
In recognition of this, ringtones have just got their own dedicated chart,
compiled by accountants KPMG, which will appear fortnightly in the trade bible
KPMG director Calum Chace, who is responsible for the new top 20 chart, says:
"With the old style plonkety-plonk phones, only the music publishing company
made money from the right to a ringtone.
"But now, with the 30-second soundbites, the artist gets money as well." The
chimes they are a changing, it seems - and fast.
The bespoke approach is the future of mobiles, says a spokesman for phone
You may buy a standard model, but they are being designed so owners can
personalise each handset with an array of features including ringtones,
pictures, games and software.
Roger Dickenson, a senior lecturer in communications and consumerism at the
University of Leicester, says many experts see the growing ringtone trend in
terms of a wider cultural shift.
In years gone by, we would define ourselves largely by what kind of job we did.
If you were an accountant, for example, you had a distinctly different identity
and set of beliefs to that of a coal miner.
Nowadays, those traditional class distinctions are blurred.
"Work is less meaningful," says Roger. "Consequently, we define ourselves in
terms of what kinds of things we buy.
"By having a particular ringtone you are making a statement about yourself and
what kind of person you are." The academic thinks that analysis is somewhat
"We have always put ourselves into particular boxes,'' says Roger.
"When we went out and bought a record or Biroed the name of our favourite band
on our schoolbag we were making a statement - showing which tribe we belonged to
in the playground.
"Personalised ringtones are just a new spin on those age-old desires to both fit
in and stand out from the crowd.'' Dr Adrian North, an expert in music
psychology at the University of Leicester, agrees.
He says: "People wear their musical preferences as a badge. They use them to
tell the world about themselves.
"I expect the songs people select as their ringtone will often date from their
adolescence or early adulthood. If it is a teenager, it will most likely come
from the current chart." The difference today, adds Roger, is that makers of
things like mobiles are much more savvy at tapping, fuelling and exploiting
Also, it's not just the nation's youth who want to be involved.
"The social situation has changed, adults have changed," says Roger.
"Computer games and gadgets are for grown-ups as much kids now. Advertisers have
made them perfectly legitimate forms of self-expression." There is also another,
so far little discussed, possible impact of the ringtone phenomenon, believes Dr
"I am sure the record industry will use free downloads to plug new music, much
as they use radio today," he says.
And, if the demands of radio helped shape the verse-chorus-verse, three-minute
pop song, adds the expert, then it is entirely possible that mobiles could see
that classic format trimmed and transformed into a glorified nursery rhyme
"God help us," groans record fan Jason. "I don't think that will happen," he
says. "People will always want to hear a proper song before having it boiled
down into a 30-second ringtone.
"The way we listen to music is changing and it will continue to change. Music,
by its nature, is ethereal. If you're a kid you're probably not that bothered
about having a CD or a cover - you just want the music.
"But there will always be people who do want that. We are becoming more and more
reliant on the 40 to 50-year-old bloke, the bloke who is having a midlife crisis
and is buying all his old records again.
"We deal with second-hand music and collectibles. I think there will always be a
market for that. Records will be treated more and more like antiques.
"Someone's just brought in an original copy of the White Album. That's the
future of pop for us - selling Beatles' records."