updated 4/4/2006 3:39:33 PM ET 2006-04-04T19:39:33

Music market tracker Billboard said Tuesday it will start publishing a chart ranking the best-selling master ringtones, audio snippets derived from original studio recordings and used to customize mobile phones.

The chart, dubbed Hot MasterTunes, will be based on data compiled by Nielsen Mobile and represent the top 20 best-selling master ringtones for the week.

"This is really where the growth has been in ringtones," said Geoff Mayfield, Billboard's director of charts.

Included in the chart will be the song title, artist, previous week's ranking and number of weeks on the chart.

Billboard will start featuring the master tones rankings sometime this summer, Mayfield said.

The weekly publication began publishing a chart for monophonic and polyphonic ringtones — song samples based on synthesized versions of recordings — in 2004.

But since then, master ringtones have become an increasingly important slice of recording industry sales, particularly in the United States.

Master ringtones have been popular for years in Asia and Europe, where use of handsets with better fidelity is more common than in the United States. But as more multimedia-friendly mobile phones have entered the U.S. market, users have increasingly opted to customize their phones with master ringtones.

That's good news for recording companies and artists who perform on an original track, because they reap royalties from master ringtones along with songwriters and publishers. Recording companies and performers don't get a cut of the synthesized ringtones.

The U.S. ringtone market is expected to exceed $600 million in sales this year, up from $500 million last year, according to BMI, a major performing rights organization that represents songwriters, composers and music publishers.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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