Meet the Childhood Friends Looking to Gamify the Music Industry With 'World Famous' Mobile App
"I want the youth to understand that the world is ours for the taking. They don't need to get into entertainment or tech, but they also don't need to follow the same path as everybody else," says David Bullock.
After growing up together in Alaska, David Bullock returned home to Anchorage earlier this month to receive the city's highest honor -- the equivalent to the key of the city. The Anchorage Assembly was celebrating the 24-year-old's experience in the music industry, which has linked him to Kanye West, Rae Sremmurd and Sean "Puffy" Combs' family, most recently helping to orchestrate and produce CombsFest at Coachella, while frequently visiting The Last Frontier to offer inspiration to its next generation.
When Bullock offered his gratitude at the podium that day, he mentioned publicly for the first time plans to develop a "music industry simulation mobile game," called World Famous, which allows users to virtually navigate challenges any real-life artist faces on the way to stardom. Much like players in the game will look to become the next big thing in music, Bullock and his partner and childhood friend Mitch Bustamante hope their app will become the next big thing in gaming -- seeing potential in the digital landscape and acting on it.
"Mobile gaming is in the commanding seat of the App Store, claiming 82 percent of all app revenue, reaching $48.3 billion in 2017," Bullock tells Billboard. "Of the top 200 grossing games in the App Store, none of them fall under the music genre."
Bullock and Bustamante have been friends since they were 5, working on projects together throughout grade school and beyond until college moved them out of the state. As such, they know what its like growing up with big dreams and few opportunities nearby to explore them. Now thriving in Los Angeles, Bullock and Bustamante have created a mobile gaming app for kids like they once were, hoping it can inform others and give them hope to seek out more.
"Although Alaska is by far the largest state in landmass, our population is less than a million," Bullock says. "We don't have enough positive role models for people to look up to." Still, his local pride is strong -- going by the handle @Alaska on social media and naming their company 907 Agency after the state's area code.
He adds, "I want the youth to understand that the world is ours for the taking. They don't need to get into entertainment or tech, but they also don't need to follow the same path as everybody else."
Billboard spoke with Bullock and Bustamante ahead of World Famous' launch in the App Store and Google Play Market on June 15.
What do you intend to be the tangible takeaways for people who play the game?
Bullock: The key takeaway is for users to gain a deeper knowledge of the milestones necessary to ascend through the music industry. We aim to educate and empower artists as brokers of their own intellectual property so they can navigate further than the generation of artists before them. A critical component of the music industry is the lack of business savvy that artists and their teams often possess. This theme is single handedly responsible for recurring themes that have artists indebted to labels and various debtors indefinitely.
Emerging technology and advances demonstrate the current opportunity for artists to own their own brands and careers. Streaming services and social media platforms rep-resent the new label and with this paradigm shift artists can finally participate as creatives and intellectuals at the same time. Our goal was to gamify the music business in a way that's fun but educational while at the same time creating a real life module that simulates an authentic artist experience. By touching on elements ranging from record label visits, to intellectual property and rights, we mapped out a route that virtually parallels an artists path to stardom.
How did this idea come together?
Bustamante: Looking at how the music industry has been shifting, new artists have to be innovative, multifaceted and agile with how to strategize their rise through the industry. Content is merely a fraction of what it takes to succeed. Going viral isn't considered a big accomplishment anymore, it's more of a starting block. Our goal was to capture the aspects of the digitally driven industry and incorporate them into the game.
Why did you decide to make this game?
Bullock: They say the best way to hide knowledge from someone is to put it in a book because nobody reads them. Nevertheless, people everywhere are reading and engaging online via apps and various technologies. This game is our effort to meet people in their most organic environment and provide them with a largely needed good and service that is currently unavailable.
How long has this been in the works?
Bustamante: We started vetting developers in early September. Under the consultation of some of our contacts in the tech industry, we hired two teams of coders in the beginning of October.
David, how have your experiences with Kanye, the Combs family and Rae Sremmurd informed the game? How have your experiences watching these artist's up close informed the way you made the game, for people to simulate that same success? How has their free-thinking, especially Kanye, influenced you?
Bullock: People that operate in excellence like Tony Williams [West's cousin] helped fortify me personally with respect to seeking greater alignment with broadening my horizons and thinking outside the box. I see the potential for the next Troy Carter or Kanye West to emerge in the next generation. We aim to be part of the narrative that creates a space where children and people everywhere recognize their true potential earlier and pursue their passions vigorously from the moment the seed is developed in their minds.
Many of the greats I've had the pleasure of knowing in a professional space have been cultivating their passions since childhood and likely put in more than 10,000 hours perfecting their initial passion before puberty. Of the many gems I've been fortunate to receive is the knowing that we're all abundant and aren't limited to doing just one thing. Kanye demonstrates the true potential of an artist and how creativity and innovation are gifts that supersede categorical limitations. Growing up, I thought my career had to be one thing but I now know a music executive can also be a tech innovator and entrepreneur at the same time and Troy Carter is an exemplary example of this.
What role did each of you play in the development?
Bustamante: It was a collaborative process from start to finish.
Bustamante: The designs and animations were done by professional developers that we contracted. We gave them rough sketches of what we wanted and they produced a few options that aligned with our requests.
When and where will it be available? Costs?
Bullock: The game is free with upgrade options and goes live June 15, 2018, via the App Store and Google Play Market. Early invitations are being extended to a select few via www.worldfamousapp.com.
I know that one of the tasks users have to complete is a "local rap battle," which highlights hip-hop -- the country's most popular genre in 2017. What other features are there?
Bustamante: The game puts users in the seat of a budding musician. Upon opening the app, you're tasked with streaming your "record" enough times to break out of your parents' garage with the goal of transcending through performances at local bars, clubs, festivals then arena tours. Focused on infusing real elements of the industry, users face challenges that range from securing publishing rights to paying a high price tag for their entourage to travel with them.
What is the end goal? Is there a such thing as "beating the game" or is the long game all about continual growth?
Bullock: The game follows the real life trajectory of what should happen in an artist's career. The ultimate goal is to become world famous prior to retiring and starting a generational legacy.
Do you think, on some level, creating this game is something that would have been beneficial when you were growing up in Alaska?
Bustamante: It's always exciting to see Alaskans breaking into new industries. Growing up there wasn't a big draw to getting into tech so hopefully by doing this we're encouraging kids back home to consider it. We're also excited about paying tribute to our home state by naming our company 907 Agency after Alaska's area code. It's the first logo people see when opening the app.
On the business side of the industry, I often witness artists calling David asking about their contracts, marketing, touring, etcetera and they have no idea about the state of their business which is alarming considering many of them are in contracts with major labels. We believe the game will benefit kids, anyone interested in being an artist or people just looking for a fun game.