Is Nightclub City DJs More Powerful than Radio?

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pic of Booyah creator Keith Lee

CEO Keith Lee: Bullish on location-based gaming

There’s little doubt that social gaming will play a key role in the future of music promotion.

Food and clothing companies have already swallowed the Kool-Aid. This past July, fans of the Facebook social game FarmVille were presented with the option of planting a specific branded crop—Cascadian Farm blueberries—on their virtual farms.

When more than 500 million users opted for the branded blueberries, well, let’s just say any blueberry farm would think those numbers are delish.

Nightclub City DJs has been generating similarly effective brand awareness for DJs. Creator Keith Lee, CEO of San Francisco-based Booyah, has created a fantasy world where DJs and producers can market their wares in ways they never dreamed.

Essentially, the game is FarmVille for the nightclubber, in which you can promote a club night, hire your friends as bouncers, serve virtual drinks, and program music from behind a virtual console. We’re sure a woman can virtually reject your advances. The more you pump the jams, the more successful your party is, and the more points you score.

Within six months of launching, Nightclub City DJs attracted more than 20 million users. Currently, 600,000 users are actively engaged every month, and the game has 4.5 million Facebook fans—providing a remarkable marketing opportunity for music labels and DJs, and a revenue model for Booyah equal to that of music ID app Shazam.

“I think what resonated with people was that it was really good music that came with a ton of fun, and we added a lot of viral channels in there that got tons of people pulled in to the game right away,” Lee told us. “And there was nothing like that on Facebook, where you were making a game where you actually had real music and cool music.”

From the outset, Lee relied on his DJ friends to provide the soundtrack. “We started pretty small,” he says. “I talked to a lot of my friends and DJs and asked if they wanted to put their music on the game for free. We’d promote it and market it in our channel. When we started getting more traction, I started calling more people. And the value propositions we were able to offer artists was this: If you put your music in our game, when people are playing it they can actually “Like” your song by pressing a like button on the song itself; and what happened was, people started liking the songs, they were discovering music through the game and they weren’t incentivized to do it.”

And that’s a great value to DJs and artists—and record labels. For DJs and artists, the game’s massive scale enabled their music to reach a wider audience. Suddenly, artists with 10,000 Facebook fans witnessed their numbers balloon to 60,000 and 100,000.

“Because we had so many people playing the game, it became a huge value for artists and DJs. In several weeks they got over 100,000 fans, and they were able to potentially get new gigs through their new fans.”

Music labels, on the constant hunt for new ways to market their artists in the ever-growing social media space, soon came calling.

“It started smaller because we wanted to represent the smaller artists like Kaskade and Deadmau5, but then the bigger labels came across and we started putting Daft Punk in there, and then rock guys like Kiss, and we promoted Far East Movement before they got big—‘Like a G6’ we promoted before it got big on the radio.”

A mobile version of the game, Nightclub City DJ Rivals, is available for the iPhone, with Android availability soon, and shortly an exclusive version for iPad and iPad 2 will be available.

Booyah is well financed—they gobbled up $30 million in rounds of venture capital from, among others, original Google investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byersand—and a half dozen other products burst from its portfolio. What began as a five-person operation two years ago now hums along in San Francisco with 55 employees.

“We’re bullish on location-based gaming,” says Lee, “using the sensors on your phone, that will be ubiquitous.”