Jimmy Hinson, also known as Big Giant Circles, unarguably has one of the coolest jobs in the world and is someone many of your favorite video games would be nothing without. He’s a man whose art brings the gaming experience to a completely different and often overlooked level. His work heightens your emotions and stays present throughout every journey. He weaves his web of music and sound and infuses it right into each gaming masterpiece. He is a video game composer.
If you’ve played Mass Effect 2 or Call of Duty Black Ops 2 (both of which earned several awards and nominations, including a BAFTA Game nomination for Best Original Score), then you’re already aware of the grand work he’s touched.
Aside from racking up NINE original music albums, one of his most recent endeavors was tackling the composition and soundtrack for There Came An Echo, a real-time strategy game. There’s quite a roller coaster of kinetic energy in this soundtrack, accompanying the player through its third person shooter strategy gameplay and its beautiful and exciting story. The song in the trailer and the album’s second track, “There Came An Echo Theme” sets the game tone with its entrancing harmony of female vocals. Another, “Telescopic”, is beyond serene, sending a welcoming invitation to a soothing odyssey of sound before being jolted into the action packed jitters of “Override”.
The very last track is dubbed “Signs” and features the bubbly vocals of YouTube gaming personality, Aureylian. This finale of a song beholds a sound so triumphant and satisfying, it’s clear the game’s inevitable ending was a happy one.
We caught up with Jimmy to find out his favorite tools to create music with and how he deals with dreaded writer’s block, among other things. He shares some pretty crucial tips, so keep reading!
[we asked Jimmy to fill in the blanks] My name is Jimmy Hinson aka Big Giant Circles. I am a musician and video game composer. I am 60% dreamer and 40% doer. I would describe myself as nostalgic, quirky, outgoing, and a bit nerdy, and I am most inspired by positivity and energy. I dream of a more positive world, and I will do that by creating music with as much feeling and intensity as I can.
Dreamers & Doers: How did you start making music?
Jimmy: After growing up taking piano lessons and playing the trumpet in school, I eventually started playing around with writing music using MIDI on my parents’ old computer, complete with cheap soundcard and everything. Then back in 2003 or so I discovered the site ocremix.org, a website dedicated to rearranging video game music. I used to listen to video game soundtracks all the time on the original Gameboy and wonder what that music would be like if it had been written with modern technology, so thanks to OCR, people like me had an outlet to do exactly that. I’ve been composing music since.
DD: What is your creative process like?
J: Most musicians I know all start with a template for whatever style they want to write. Me, for better or worse, I always start each project completely blank. I have a ridiculous amount of musical programs and plugins that I like to just play around with one of the literally tens of thousands of presets that I have until I find one that inspires me. Then I just sort of improv for hours while I have the in-progress song looping. Something will usually stick eventually. There’s probably better ways to write music, but that’s basically been my typical process for a while.
DD: Describe your work space.
J: I have a spare bedroom in my house that I converted into my studio. I’ve tried to make it a cool/fun place to work, so in addition to acoustic foam and studio gear, I have a bunch of posters of dinosaurs and some mood lighting. Dinosaurs are awesome. Who isn’t inspired by dinosaurs? Not me. 🙂
DD: What is your favorite tool or piece of equipment to create music with?
J: Hmm. If I had to pick just one plugin that I use in almost every song it’d probably be Spectrasonics Omnisphere. There are just so many incredible sounds in it. There’s literally thousands of presets and almost all of them are highly usable. It’s got everything from classic analog synthesizers to lush orchestral instruments and choirs, to quirky percussive fx, to retro video game chiptune stuff to cutting-edge digital instruments and a huge amount of amazing textures and soundscapes. I recommend that every aspiring musician buys it. (I don’t work for Spectrasonics I promise).
DD:. Where do you look for inspiration when producing a new song or track?
J: All over the place. I have a very uh, rapidly-evolving attention span, and I noticed my musical writing tends to somewhat mimic whatever style of music I’ve been listening to most recently. But when I’m writing for a specific project, I usually try to stick close to whatever reference tracks I’ve been given. Like with Mass Effect for example, they wanted like a sci-fi space opera soundtrack, so I listened to a lot of stuff by Vangelis, John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.
DD:. If you could go back in time and give your younger self advice about music, what would it be?
J: Write more of it, and don’t be afraid to take risks! Not just musical risks in writing, but I was raised to be super thrifty, which is generally a good thing, but I wish I’d bought a bunch of good gear sooner. I’m always super jealous when I see these young teenage kids who saved up and bought themselves a really nice computer and some good music programs. I wish I’d done that.
I mean, you don’t have to have a top-of-the-line machine or plugins to write great music, but it definitely can help. I think a lot of doors would have opened sooner for me if I’d just saved up and invested in my studio back when I lived at home and didn’t have as many bills, ya know? Not that having the best gear is everything, by any means, but I wonder what my teenage self might have been able to write if I’d just been willing to splurge a little more on some better gear.
The other thing is I wish I hadn’t been so shy about putting my music out there earlier. Most stuff I wrote a long time ago is pretty terrible, but it wasn’t until I released my first original album in 2011 that I started regularly getting contacted by people who wanted to pay me to write for their project. It’s fine to be a little shy about the world hearing your work, but I just don’t know why I waited so long. SMH 🙂
Also, make your work easy to find, easy to listen to, and easy to buy. There’s really no excuse to not have a consistent brand, and to make it easy for people to be able to support you and buy your music if they want to. It drives me crazy when I find a song I like on Youtube or Soundcloud or something, and the artist doesn’t at least have a twitter account, or any obvious place where I can buy more of their music.
DD: Who are some of your favorite artists?
J: My musical tastes have evolved a lot over the years. I was really into pop/rock growing up. As I got more into composing, I got a lot more into orchestral music and movie soundtracks as well as video game music. I’m really into electronic music as well, it’s probably what I listen to most these days. On the EDM side I like everything from BT, Imogen Heap, Zedd, Seven Lions, Fractal, Varien, actually, pretty much all the artists on the Monstercat label. For orchestral music, I’m all about John Williams, James Newton Howard, and John Powell. I also listen to a bunch of indie artists like Chipzel, danny B, C418, and zircon. There’s so many more but that’s a good start.
DD: What tips could give upcoming artists on how to deal with writer’s block?
J: Grind through it! It’s super common, and the only way to get past it is to just write SOMETHING. Even if it’s not your best work, it’ll get you that much closer to knocking another one out of the park. If it’s really seriously just not happening, just set that song down and come back to it later. There’s a bunch of songs I didn’t get anywhere with and I’d revisit them after a few weeks/months and it made all the difference in figuring out where to go next.
DD: Are there any third party plugins that you consider an absolute must-have?
J: Aside from Omnisphere, probably all the other Spectrasonics stuff. And if you’re on a budget, Native Instruments Komplete is probably the best bang for your buck. It’ll give you more sounds than you know what to do with that will cover pretty much every possible style of music you’re gonna write. For mastering, I really like Fabfilter’s stuff. It’s really user friendly and clean. Also, gonna throw a shoutout to the Image-Line team for FL Studio, which has been my DAW of choice. There’s no such thing as “the best DAW”, it all depends on the user. But that’s been the one for me for over a decade.
DD: What are some helpful habits you practice to keep generating and finishing tracks?
J: Go for a walk/run. Take a drive. Just play around on a piano/guitar. Listen to new music. Get other people to listen to your work-in-progress. Sometimes letting people hear a track for the first time helps me to listen to it with fresh ears.