My Singing Monsters has lured millions of users with its entrancingly catchy melodies, adorable creatures, and, most importantly, addictive world-building. (Must…hatch…singing wowng. Must…buy…rhythmic rock. Must…upgrade…castle. Wait, how has an hour gone by?) But after a year of mesmerizing kids—and more than a few adults who thought they had better things to do—on charm alone, the online game's islands full of doo-wopping, drumming, and la-la-la-ing monsters will get their first celebrity guest: Kristian Bush, the male half of country-music stars Sugarland. Look for Bush's monster in the game starting July 29.
This particular collaboration demonstrates the power of social media to make unexpected, fun, and professionally fruitful connections happen quickly. On Father's Day, Bush was spending time with his two children and found himself humming along to the game his 11-year-old, Tucker, was glued to on his iPad. Finally, he looked over Tucker’s shoulder to see his son building the song by adding crazy-cute little monsters to the chorus coming from a virtual tropical island. A white, fuzzy behemoth named Hank sings bass; a jellyfish named Tahoe harmonizes; a pink blob that's all mouth and tongue hits the high notes.
"I just liked the song," Bush says. "You know how there was a point in Donkey Kong where the song didn't quite annoy you yet? I was attracted to that, and to the funny, silly monsters that hit me in my Muppet sweet spot."
Soon he was as hooked as his kid, and took the natural next step: He tweeted about it.
Eventually the game's creator at Canada-based Big Blue Bubble, Dave Kerr, responded and invited Bush to become a monster himself. Within a week, Kerr was emailing Bush mock-ups of himself as a green, fedora-wearing monster playing the mandolin.
Bush, who plays several instruments (including mandolin), writes songs, and sings, could act relatively fast on the invitation. He and Sugarland partner Jennifer Nettles are on a break from their multi-million-album-selling career for Nettles' maternity leave. Though Bush has been recording solo work, playing some solo shows, and writing for other artists, he had a hole in his schedule that allowed him to get into his home studio to record his part, about 16 bars of mandolin and vocal music to fit in with the monsters already occupying the island chorus. (For experienced My Singing Monsters players: He'll be on the first island.)
"It's like being a guest star on The Love Boat," Bush says. "You have to figure out how to fit yourself into something that already exists. It was really interesting, because the song itself is a combination of genres. I'm like the mandolin bridge between indie band and dance rock." Less than a month after he first tweeted about the game, he'd recorded his part and become a monster.
The game launched last August, created by Kerr as an attempt to combine world-building games like Spore and Minecraft with 3-D sound. He chose monsters as his musicians for one simple reason: "With animals you'd be restricted," Kerr says. "Monsters can play an instrument or make a sound or do whatever you want them to."
Bush's semi-free-agent status at the moment helped speed the process along, cutting out the necessity for corporate approvals and other red tape. (He's signed to Universal as part of Sugarland but is an independent solo artist who founded his own music publishing company.) He also won't make any money off the arrangement with My Singing Monsters (it's just for fun and mutual branding), a decision that alleviated the need for negotiation. "Making up songs and melodies is what I do every day anyway," Bush says. "There's no reason why we can't guest in each other's worlds like this."
Bush is open to more video-game collaborations, with Big Blue Bubble or others: "I love writing music for film and TV, but putting it into a video game is twice as fun because it needs to be repeatable and joyous." Kerr, too, would love to hear more celebrity voices on his monster islands; in fact, the company has created a whole new "class" of monster (likely to be called Legendary Monsters) to debut Bush. Kerr is wary of being overrun by big-name musicians and, more importantly, record company politics, but he's open to all possibilities. "We’re very agile," he says. "If a big company approached us, we'd listen." For now, though, they're happy listening to their monsters—and Bush’s mandolin.