An Interview with Video Game Music Composer Phantaminum
Phantaminum is a U.S. based composer with a focus on video game music. He is strongly influenced by the music of a wide variety of contemporary and retro composers and enjoys exploring a wide variety of different styles in his musical creations. I talked to him about how he first became interested in making music, his creative process and how he recharges his creative batteries.
Interview with Phantaminum
Karl Magi: How did you first become interested in making music?
Phantaminum: Music has always been a major factor in my life for as long as I can remember. My family, in particular, has a lot of very talented musicians, so I was always encouraged to explore music as a creative outlet. When video game music came into play, however, I'm not exactly sure. Because I have been playing video games since a very young age, I think the music of those games really resonated with me. Now I just want to make video game music that does those memories creative justice; simultaneously paying homage and hopefully accentuating a particular mood or feeling. Also, making video game music is incredibly fun and provides a good outlet for experimenting with a wide array of styles, instruments, and sounds!
KM: Who are some of the artists that you’ve found inspirational and why?
P: Oh man, there are so many! Koji Kondo is an absolutely legendary composer that I think a lot of us VGM artists really look up to. His work with the Zelda series, Majora's Mask specifically, really helped me realize just how effective a good video game soundtrack could be in the experience of a game. Some other composers include Yoko Shimomura (Street Fighter, Super Mario RPG), Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy series), and Yuka Tsujiyoko (Paper Mario, Fire Emblem).
There have recently been a great deal of games being released on the indie circuit that have included some of the best soundtracks I have ever heard. Disasterpeace, who composed for both FEZ and Hyper Light Drifter, really influenced me the most. When I heard his soundtrack for Hyper Light Drifter, I immediately thought, "I want to make something like this." Likewise, Toby Fox's Undertale soundtrack is an incredibly melodic callback to the older RPG style of gaming and should also be a must listen for any composer out there.
Finally, I get a lot of inspiration from my peers. Holland Albright has some of the most beautiful piano compositions I have heard. His music really inspires me to step my game up!
KM: Where do you feel that video game music fits into the broader world of contemporary composition?
P: I’m not classically trained, so I'm unsure as to whether or not I have an authority on "contemporary composition." But I do think that music composition is music composition.
KM: Tell me more about your creative process(es).
P: I held myself to creating and completing one track a week for almost half a year, but as end of the semester finals began to get closer, I've unfortunately had to put a lot of my creative process on hold. I think, at times, that this proved to be a good thing because it took a bit of pressure off of my creative process and allowed me the time to doodle ideas instead of sticking to similar patterns to release a product.
Now I'll typically just sit behind a piano or acoustic guitar and noodle around for a bit. If anything interesting catches my ear, I'll record the rough idea then transfer it over to my DAW and mess around with some VSTs. I usually have a general idea of how I want the piece to sound before I even bring it out of that brief sketch.
KM: What are some of the current projects on which you’re working?
P: I just finished up participating in VGM Academy's "21 Days of VGM" fall challenge, which was a ton of fun! Now I participate in a few challenges like that of Music Weeklies on Twitter, or with some friends on Discord. I do have a particular project in mind that I've been chipping away at for the last few months, though that's a personal project so it will be completed at its own pace. I would love for a future project to be working on scoring a video game, so everything now is working toward that goal!
KM: How do you recharge yourself creatively?
P: I found the best way to recharge on the creative spectrum is to just take a break every now and then. Sometimes I think we tend to burn ourselves out, so just sitting back and letting your brain cool off for a bit can really help. On the other hand, I have found that only composing when feeling inspired will result in a project a month, so I like to force myself to sit down and compose for practice; I've surprised myself at times with what I have come up with in those situations!
Another way I help recharge my creativity is by listening to what others are doing from the professionals down to composers who are just starting out. They're the ones that inspired me initially, and they continue to inspire me even now.