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Ringtones going gold, platinum

LAWRENCEVILLE - When Sarah Powers' best friend calls, her cell phone doesn't send forth some lame ring or an elevator-ready version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue.

But it does play a few of her favorite lines from 'I Got A Feelin' by Billy Currington - a country singer Powers and her friend Stephanie Davis like.

"It puts us in a good mood," Davis said.

When Haven Thompson's husband calls, she hears the "Good Ol' Boys," a song by outlaw country star Waylon Jennings that later became theme of the TV show "Dukes of Hazzard."

Thompson likes the ringtone because it makes her think of Bo and Luke - the names her sons share in common with the stars of the television series.

"I smile every time," Thompson said.

In the rapid evolution of the American wireless market, ringtones are turning cell phones into more than communication devices. They are becoming trademarks of individual personality.

"It's about personalization" said Geoff Mayfield, Billboard director of charts and the music magazine's senior analyst.

"When kids buys ringtones, it brands them," he said. "It becomes their song."

The growth in popularity of ringtones is so remarkable it's changing the music industry.

Making the Billboard chart and creating gold and platinum records have always been significant achievements, a validation that an artist has a true hit song or album.

Now, Billboard has a "Hot Ringtones" chart where this week's top 10 included artists such as Bubba Sparxxx, Dem Franchize Boyz and The Black Eyed Peas.

The music industry honors best-selling artists with gold and platinum records. Now it also honors them with gold and platinum ringtones.

Wireless companies are getting in on the act.

Although they don't break down ringtone revenues in their financial performance, industry analyst Yankee Group projects revenues soaring from $677 million to about $2 billion by 2010.

An average ringtone costs from $1.50 to $2.50.

"I've got about 20," Powers said. "They're just fun to listen to."

Meanwhile, wireless companies are rolling out more ringtone options for Powers and her friends.

Verizon Wireless this week began offering at least 50 live concert clips.

And earlier this year Cingular Wireless tapped into the "American Idol" craze by sending technicians to live shows, where they plugged recording equipment into the sound board.

The next day a real-time Kelly Pickler ringtone was ready to download.

TOP TEN

Top 10 "Hot Ringtones" as of July 15

•1. "Super Mario Brothers Theme," Koji Kondo

•2. "Ms. New Booty," Bubba Sparxxx featuring Ying Yang Twins & Mr. Collipark

•3. "Ridin' Rims," Dem Franchize Boyz

•4. "Mission: Impossible," Lalo Schifrin

•5. "My Humps," The Black Eyed Peas

•6. "What Hurts the Most," Rascal Flatts

•7. "The Pink Panther Theme," Henry Mancini

•8. "Gasolina," Daddy Yankee

•9. "Laffy Taffy," DeeMoney/Asylum

•10. "Best Friend," 50 Cent & Olivia

Source: Billboard