The Untold Story Of Nokia’s Iconic Ringtone

Would you believe it if we just told you that the NOKIA ringtone was composed in an era, when mobile phones weren’t even a thing? The human race hadn’t even imagined that devices like these would pop up in the hands of the future generation! Ironically, the NOKIA ringtone was created way before NOKIA even ventured into the mobile sector or even planned to launch their first ever handset! Fun-fact. Bear with us as we say that the NOKIA tune wasn’t even composed by NOKIA in the first place! But why do we know it as the NOKIA tune? And what’s a ringtone doing in the era of ‘messenger pigeons’? Here’s revealing the most unheard and interesting story of the world’s most popular ringtone, The NOKIA tune!

Yash Warrier | BeatCurry Team

At the peak of the Finnish phone manufacturer’s market dominance, that iconic sound-”Tada Tada Tada Tada Tada TaDaDa” had an estimated 1.8 billion hits a day from pockets and bags around the world. Here’s the story of the iconic ringtone! 

Listen to this music: 

You certainly don’t need a musical ear to hear its most famous passage. The notes jump out 12 seconds into this recording of the song. What you just heard is not the NOKIA ringtone. Rather, it’s a 3-4 clipping from this spanish music called ‘Gran Vals’ composed in the year 1902 by the legendary guitarist Francisco Tárrega. 

During its time, the use of a particular piece of music as a ringtone by Nokia was considered quite groundbreaking. Unlike other phone manufacturers, who relied on heavy metal or techno music in their commercials to showcase their phones’ technological features, NOKIA’s marketing campaigns had a different approach. Instead, they emphasized situations where their phones were used, promoting the idea that Nokia phones made life easier and better. This approach aligned well with their motto, “Connecting People,” and was both genuine and straightforward. The choice of ‘Gran Vals’ as the score for NOKIA’s marketing campaign was a perfect fit.

Well, how did this tune land in the hands of NOKIA? And why do we know it as the NOKIA tune when it was actually created by someone else? 

The story of the famous earworm stretches back to ‘Gran Vals’ which was among the pieces of music that a NOKIA engineer and a marketing executive tested for the earliest versions of the phone. The answer to this question lies in a simple law, called the ‘Copyright Law’. Generally speaking, the Copyright Law protects the rights of authors, or creators who have created an original piece of work. Here in this case, it was a musical piece of work, a composition. Well, interestingly there’s a defined duration to this protection. Each country has its own music laws. Talking from a European perspective, this protection starts right after the creation of the composition and lasts up to 70 years after the death of the author, after which legally the music enters the public domain and is available and open for people to use. 

The team of researchers and musicians, headed by Thomas Dolby were certain to use music of other composers, select a particular portion from their music and ship (clip) it as NOKIA’s ringtone. NOKIA needed a sound free of expensive copyright claims. While searching for music by other composers, they were cautioned by their lawyers about the implications of using copyrighted music, due to high royalties, permissions and getting clearances, or else they better use music of composers who passed away more than 70 years ago! 

Reacting to this, one of the guys from the marketing team said, “Are there tunes made by dead composers?” A statement both bizarre and revolutionary at the same time. Finally after researching and checking repertoires of various composers and artists, they finally settled with the 3-4 clipping from ‘Gran Vals’, who’s composer passed away in the year 1909, almost over 80 years before NOKIA launched their first ever mobile phones, making them fundamentally risk free. 

In 1993, Nokia had the responsibility of choosing sounds to incorporate into their upcoming product’s final version. To avoid expensive copyright claims, the company sought a sound that was free of legal restrictions. This led them to consider the works of Tárrega, who was a long-dead composer. Under European law, music becomes part of the public domain 70 years after the composer’s death. Tárrega, who had passed away 84 years earlier at the age of 57, was therefore a suitable candidate for Nokia’s purposes.

The next thing you remember seeing was the NOKIA 1011 television commercial, which officially played this song for the first time. Until 1998, all NOKIA phones had the word ‘Gran Vals’ written in the ringtone section, which one way looking was a tribute to the late legendary composer Francisco. 1998 onwards, they dropped the word ‘Gran Vals’, and once and for all renamed it to the ‘Nokia Tune.’ Yes. That nostalgic sound, which became so popular that back then it was played more than a billion times a single day in 2010! It went on to become one of the original and most famous electronic earcons of all times. 

Just imagine. This small phrase, which was composed more than 100 years back, written in old books and scriptures, published on today’s antique vinyls, wouldn’t have reached today’s generation and the generation to come, if NOKIA wouldn’t have made it their signature music. This song brings back every little joy that we’ve had using NOKIA phones. It’s indeed a must-know insight to know the real purpose of sonic branding that we need to credit NOKIA for! 

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