Will the Nokia Waltz reach its 20th anniversary?
This is quite off-topic indeed, but I don't think you'll mind me sharing it anyway. Some people wonder if the famous Nokia ringtone will be gone after the Microsoft takeover next year (supposing no one would be willing or able to stop it). It reminded me of an essay I wrote in the Netherlands a few years ago, after Nokia was willing to pay $10.000 for a new version of the ringtone in a contest.
This was in 2011 and it obviously was an attempt to get some positive brand attention - as the ringtone itself has always been a way to attract attention. You'll find a translation of what I wrote that year below - about the now almost 20 year old ringtone, that could be heard for the first time in the tv commercials in the beginning of the nineties for the Nokia 101 and 121. Here's one I found on YouTube. As you can see it was made in the style of a silent Chaplin-like movie, and the guitar music in the background was supposed to be relaxing, as opposed to the loud commercials in those years. [edit: the video is no longer available on YouTube unfortunately].
It wasn't just the peaceful character that inspired Anssi Vanjoki - Nokia's marketing man at the time - to think of this particular composition. The music had been composed more than 90 years ago so Nokia wouldn't have to pay copyrights for it. The music was written in Barcelona by Francisco Tárrega. I found a short video with the music and some pictures and painted portraits from the composer who was famous at the end of the 19th century. [edit: that video is gone, too. Here's a file on Soundcloud].
The thirteen notes Nokia made famous are from his "Gran Vals" - a waltz for solo guitar lasting almost a quarter of an hour in which you will hear the theme twice. Nokia "adopted" the melody and registered it as a
sound trademark . After introducing the music in the television commercials at the beginning of the nineties, the first mobile phone to offer the same melody as ringtone was the Nokia 2110 from 1994. Yes, the melodic ringtone is close to 20 years old.
Looking back, it may seem like the obvious thing to do, but make no mistake: offering a melody as a ringtone was an absolutely brilliant innovation in those days. For the first time in history, the melody of a television commercial was literally incorporated in the product itself - something you can only dream of as head of marketing of Martini :-) Also, it was a great way for people to personalize their mobile phone and one of many ways Nokia thought of from the beginning of the nineties (offering colorful covers for instance).
Since that year, almost 20 years in a row, this melody has been the "default" ringtone on every Nokia mobile phone. The phone itself has become its own commercial as soon as someone calls it: brilliant. It has become one of the most well-known musical trademarks in the world and there have been times when it could be estimated that Mother Earth would hear this melody about a billion times a day...
In the following years, the ringtone was often altered to more modern versions, using the much better quality of the speakers in mobile phones. After Nokia all other producers came with their "own" ringtones - there was a period you could directly hear which brand someone carried with him.
Sony Ericsson's sound logo was very recognizable for instance, but never became as unique as the Nokia Waltz. Later, Nokia started offering tons of other ringtones on their mobile devices as well - they had no choice of course. Also, chances are people will frown and think you're "old fashioned" when they hear your smartphone play "that old tune" - no matter how "hip" it has become ;-)
Nevertheless, on my own Nokia Lumia 1020, I'm proud to listen to the more or less "classic" version of the Nokia Waltz whenever someone calls me - though not the hectic remix that was chosen as winner in the 2011 contest, which you can still find on all Nokia smartphones...
The Nokia Watlz is one of the most well-known
sound logos in the world. I wonder - do you still use Nokia's Waltz as ringtone? Do you think Microsoft should keep it next year? And do you think it will?
Update: Thanks to an article by Josh Warwick in the English Telegraph (in which part of this article is quoted) I learned the digital version of the waltz was in fact created by the English musician Thomas Dolby and his firm Beatnik Inc. The quote from Thomas Dolby below from that article more or less completes this short history of the most famous ringtone ever: “Nokia were aware that some Japanese phones were coming out with a microchip that could play music,” says Dolby. “So they asked us if we would consider sending engineers to Helsinki to try to get our synthesiser running on their phones." Their efforts were successful and when the groundbreaking Nokia 2110 was released in 1994 it was the first to feature Dolby’s work."