A ringback tone is a call tune that allows subscribers to entertain callers with their favorite song instead of the mundane ring. They have been popular among leading network providers especially for entertainment before a subscriber picks up their call. However much they’ve become part of our lives, various cadres of people view them differently. GEORGE D. MWENDWA speaks to some of them.
In Kenya, one of the most popular ring back tone company is Skiza owned by Safaricom. It is perchance the biggest revenue earner in the Kenyan music scene, and in efforts to continue empowering Kenyan artistes make a living from their music, Skiza has in the past increased the percentage on their (artistes) revenue disbursement monthly as well as increasing transparency through releasing a layout of sales as per subscriptions to the artistes who’ve in the past nit-picked that the Premium Rate Service Providers (PRSP) who act as middlemen have been fleecing them of their earnings.
In this development, the content platform announced that musicians would now earn 30 per cent on Skiza earnings, up from the current 22 per cent they were earning per song. The amount would be paid through their respective Content Service Providers who will then pay the musicians in accordance with the contracts they have signed and in line with recent legal directives.
However, behind the artiste and Premium Rate Service Providers (PRSP) wars is this gem that no party is ready to let go off; ring back tones. They are inevitable since everyone makes calls and in the midst of the ring before the other subscriber picks up, they play the entertainer for the seconds you wait before the call is picked or for the rest of the ring incase they don’t pick up the call. Some are funny while others are educative for instance Rhoda Kamanu loves her ring back tone and explains why she chose it. It goes, “ thank you for calling Rhoda, Rhoda will pick your call shortly, did you know that Rhoda is a female Greek name meaning roses? I thought you should know.” It goes on and on until she picks up or repeats itself until the call ends.
“I find it so professional that the ring back tone acts as my secretary to affirm that the caller actually dialed the right number. It has in the past helped to ward off indistinct callers who call my number accidentally. Some ring back tones can portray that you are such a joker and even have you viewed as less trustworthy or even end up losing a serious job. I therefore prefer this one for its professionalism,” she reveals.
Barrack Justus a photographer at Phoenix Creatives has never had a ring back tone since he bought his first phone over 5 years ago. “I find ring back tones quite unprofessional considering I’m a corporate photographer having to deal with serious clients on a daily basis some who don’t even understand Swahili then I wouldn’t want to have some club banger playing in my background. However if I will ever have one it will be one defining the nature of my business and what exactly we do. In the end this won’t just be a ring back tone but an advert as well,” he shares.
Ann Kambo, a communication student at Daystar University, finds some ring back tones quite inapt since whatever is playing could be a disgust to the caller and would make them create a perception around you even before they meet you for the first time.
“This trend took off back in the days and you probably remember this phenomenon—calling a friend’s cell phone, and instead of hearing the standard ring, you heard a pop song. Called ring back tones, this digital music fad allowed cell phone owners to subject callers to their own musical preference, which I find quite inappropriate,” reveals Ann.
At first, the appeal of ring back tones was obvious: they were another way to customize phones in the pre-smart phone era when cellphone technology and design left little room for personalization. They were also an update to ringtones, allowing users to control how others experienced calling them.
A good number of these tones have become so creative and the artists creating them keep on getting more creative by the day. The adverts on the codes to enter so as to subscribe to these tones keep renting the airwaves during the prime time just to stamp the idea that their reception is magnificent. From some of your calls, you’ll hear the voice of a cow herder saying how far they are from their phone as they are busy milking. Another mimics the voice of the President notifying you that they’ll pick your call shortly. Another takes the role of an adamant police officer that’ll threaten to arrest you if the purpose for your call is indistinct, just to mention but a few. “These tones are a huge revenue earner to the host companies but we create them from the demand of the public. They have gained more popularity in the rural areas compared to the urban centers since most of them are familiar mimics or witty phrases that they can be entertained to as they wait for their calls to be picked,” divulges Francis Muriu a creative behind a number of some of the most common ring back tones. Ringback tones have not only become a thing for callers but service providers as well. Communications devices now activate and interact with the ring back/ringtone synchronization system to allow for modifications of the network service.