It's for you: composers are making a song from mobile ringtones

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The Independent Online

The days when radio DJs count down the singles chart may be drawing to a close – to be replaced by a list of the most popular mobile phone ringtones.

The days when radio DJs count down the singles chart may be drawing to a close – to be replaced by a list of the most popular mobile phone ringtones.

The record industry, facing a collapse in sales of singles, has discovered that an alternative is right on its doorstep: the trilling of mobile phones, which mean cash in the bank for composers of songs such as Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head", Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me", and the Cheeky Girls' "The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)".

That's because under the terms on which ringtones are sold through websites, the site owners must pay the artist 15p per download, or 15 per cent of the turnover from their sales, whichever is larger. With the number of downloads estimated at hundreds of millions across Europe every year, it has turned into a burgeoning business that is beginning to make the singles market look sickly.

And they might even begin to replace singles' present-day role of marketing the more profitable album from which a song is taken. "I think record companies are waking up to the fact that ringtones are an effective marketing tool," said Adrian Crookes, a spokesman for the Mechanical Copyright Protection Service and Performing Rights Society (MCPS/PRS), which collects royalties owed to composers from public performances – a category that includes internet or wireless transmission of ringtones.

Record companies agree. Ringtones are "definitely an exciting market", said Amanda Conroy, speaking for EMI Music, whose artists include Minogue and Robbie Williams, another popular ringtone source. "It's a new revenue stream for the music industry, and a growing business."

At Vivendi/Universal Records, Adam Liversage, who follows new technology trends, said: "It's a better source of revenue for publishers, such as EMI, but in the near future, when mobile phones can play real songs like a computer, it's going to change it all. You can envisage a situation where you can get a video and a single downloaded to your phone for a pound and it'll play 100 times, or for a month, or whatever."

That will happen within the next five years, he thinks. "Top-end phones are already capable of it," he said. And that could lead to a new form of chart based on the total number of ringtones downloaded in a week, just as some charts now rank songs by radio play, rather than sales in shops. "We already have that for DVD music videos, so why not ringtones?"

Ringtones have become such an important source of revenue that the MCPS/PRS has begun to focus on ringtone download sites that try to evade payments. The industry estimated last year that composers were being shortchanged by as much as £1m daily.

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