By Molly • Molly Walker • 

Savage Apps marks milestones with iAmDrums

Marcus LarsonJohn Marr, in his McMinnville office, describes the process of creating a new iPhone app.
Marcus LarsonMost of the apps John Marr creates have involved music in some way, thanks to his extensive musical background. Here he plays a guitar he carved himself several years ago.

Marr is CEO of Savage Apps, a company launched in McMinnville in 2008 with the advent of the iTunes App Store. It was the release of the iPhone in June 2007 that got him started.

“I remember holding that iPhone and feeling like it was a breakthrough,” Marr said. “I had a sense it was something special.”

But initially, all it could really do was call and text. It features only 10 icons and there was no site online where you could find more in one place.

With a friend, Marr explored the phone’s code. By the time Apple was ready to launch its online store, his company’s team, which includes career programmers Mark Armstrong and John Kent, was ready to get on board.

“I discovered this fun environment to explore,” Marr said.

To him, learning to write code for mobile apps was like learning to express himself in a new language. It represented a welcome creative outlet as well.

Plus, while making a living in the art realm is difficult, he can realize a monetary return sufficient to provide for his family through app development.

The company’s first big hit was the music app iAmBeatBox, released in April 2010. It was only receiving five downloads a day initially, but when iTunes featured it, activity soared.

Soon, it was being downloaded 70,000 times daily. And, like iAmDrums, it took a turn as the top free app in 50 countries. 

While Marr is pleased with the success of his apps, the process has been marked by lows as well as highs. Competition constantly demands better, more powerful apps. 

“We’re trying to create a brand, an experience,” Marr said. He said he’s intending to establish a brand synonymous with quality.

All company’s most popular apps revolve around music. That’s understandable, as Marr is a singer-songwriter himself. 

“We’re really serious about making great apps,” Marr said. And he has proven good enough at it to earn the notice of both Apple’s U.S. and U.K. operations.

Marr has made his home in McMinnville on and off since 1993. He is drawn to McMinnville in part because he thinks it’s a great place for him and his wife, Gizelle, to raise their son, Justice, and daughters, Beloved (Bella), Eleora (Ellie) and Faith. 

He also serves as assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel, giving him three passions — family, church and profession.

“I haven’t lived in pursuit of money,” Marr said. “It’s the art of it. I am making money, but I’m compelled to do what I’m doing.”

Marr said he’s worked hard to achieve to this point, and he doesn’t feel he’s peaked yet. But he said, “If apps weren’t making money, and my family was suffering, I would leave it in a heartbeat.”

The company offers a mix of free and paid apps.

Free apps can generate income by serving as vehicles for advertising, paid enhancements and premium content. Occasionally, they’re offered free for a specific time.

On March 5, 2011, Savage Apps offered its entire lineup free for a one-day promotion. That generated 320,000 downloads in a 24-hour period. 

He’s created more than 50 apps in all, including iAmMemory, iAmUkelele, dubstep and foteo.

The roster even includes a book, The Lazy Elf. It features narration by Jerry Naylor, who became lead singer in the Crickets following Buddy Holly’s untimely death.

Marr is now setting his sights on developing apps for Android phones. “There’s a lot going on in the industry,” he said.

He feels there’s room for more developers as the app world continues to expand.

“We’re still at the beginning of the industry,” he said. “They’re really powerful. It’s much like building a portable website, but you’re touching it, interacting with it.”

He feels that’s what made apps so big so fast.

In addition to moving into Android apps, Marr is planning to develop a line of faith-based apps. He has obtained rights to Elvis Presley music he plans to incorporate in some future offerings as well.

“My personal passion is that I’ll continue to grow in the craft and continue to have it as a blessing for my family,” he said. “My world view touches what I do.”

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