There are a couple ways to swap that horrible default chirping noise for something more pleasant without shelling out $3 a tone to your carrier. The easiest way is to use the Web service Mobile 17. Sign up for a free account, enter your phone model and provider, and upload your MP3 or M4A file. Choose the point in the song at which you want the ring to start and how long a clip you´d like. In a few minutes, Mobile 17 will send a file in the proper format to your phone by e-mail or text message (you can then save the attachment as a ringtone).

If you crave more control, clip and convert a song yourself using free sound-editing software such as Audacity, and move it to the phone by data cable, Bluetooth or e-mail. Check your phone´s user guide to make sure it supports custom ringtones. If not, consult the phone-hacking site HowardForums to see if others have found an unofficial workaround; they usually have.

A word of caution: There´s debate over whether using a copyrighted song-even one you own-as your ringtone is fair use (and therefore legal). But there´s been no definitive court ruling either way, so let Britney ring at your own discretion.

Gina Trapani is editor of the blog Her ringtone is from the Jackson Five.

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