Kirk Hamilton is a musician and writer in Portland, OR. He is the creator and host of the music podcast Strong Songs, as well as a saxophonist, composer and jazz educator. He also co-hosts and produces the Kotaku Splitscreen video game podcast, and has written about music, games and culture for a variety of publications including The New York Times, Acoustic Guitar Magazine, Paste Magazine, and as an editor at Kotaku. He can be found online at kirkhamilton.com and on Twitter @kirkhamilton.
That’s the short(ish) version. Here’s the longer story:
First and foremost I’m a saxophonist and woodwind player, though I play a lot of other instruments as well. I also do a lot of arranging and orchestrating, and love to work with other people on their music. I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, where in high school I was lucky enough to take jazz classes on campus at Indiana University. The highlight of that time was definitely studying jazz improvisation with the legendary David Baker.
After high school I attended the terrific/intense Frost School of Music at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, where I got my degree in Studio Music and Jazz performance. I spent ten years out of school living and gigging in San Francisco, where I got to play some pretty spectacular shows with my own groups and alongside a lot of music legends. Once I got to play “Where the Boys Are” with Connie Francis at the Castro Theatre, which I believe is the actual Ultimate San Francisco Gig of All Time.
From 2004-2011 I served on the arts faculty at the wonderful Urban School of San Francisco, where I directed one of two jazz bands and helped more than double the size of the jazz program. We mostly accomplished that by getting every freshman with an ounce of musical impetus to come join the band. It worked! Here, kid, have a saxophone. Congratulations, you’re in.
I spent 2008 writing, recording, and producing my first solo album, titled “The Exited Door,“ which I released in 2009. It’s a party, and features over 20 of my very favorite friends and musicians. I subsequently performed a bunch of shows in support of that album and served as co-creator and musical director of the too-short-lived theatrical radio variety show “915 Cayuga.” (RIP)
In 2014 I moved from San Francisco to beautiful Portland, OR, where I’ve been working on a long overdue second album. In late 2018 I started the music podcast Strong Songs — on each episode, I go deep into a new song and figure out what makes it tick.
I’ve been a writer all my life, from the ridiculous action-adventure novels I’d write when I was twelve to the newsletter I wrote in high school detailing the rad (or, “rad”) adventures of my group of band-geek friends. I love video games as well—I grew up as a diehard PC gamer and finally came to consoles around the PS2 generation. As a result, I fell into writing about games pretty naturally—I’d discovered the “Brainy Blogosphere” in about 2007 and instantly fell in love: here were people who wrote and thought about games the same way I did!
I read, lurked, commented, and emailed with a lot of my favorite writers, and finally in late 2009 I started up the gaming blog Gamer Melodico with three friends. I ran the site and worked my ass off for a year, putting up a ton of posts and figuring out how I wanted to write about games. During that time I made friends with a whole lot of fantastic people and started to freelance for Paste Magazine and Joystiq and Edge magazine. I also got some stuff published at Kotaku, and generally became more and more present on the scene.
After that, I took over for Jason Killingsworth as Games Editor at Paste and ran the gaming site there for a while, and had a blast doing it. A short time later I was given the chance to join the team at Kotaku as full-time features editor. In December of 2015 I took the role of deputy editor, directly under editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo. I helped run the site during a particularly challenging (but never boring!) eight months before deciding that I was too far removed from the New York office to be an effective manager, and that I’d rather focus exclusively on writing. In July of 2016, I moved into the role of editor-at-large, and spent the next two years writing pretty much whatever I wanted. During that time I also fell in love with podcasting, thanks to my time producing Kotaku Splitscreen with my co-host/co-founder Jason Schreier and our third co-host Maddy Myers.
In December of 2018, I decided to leave Kotaku after almost eight years and get back to focusing on music. I’ll doubtless be publishing some freelance stuff here and there, of course, and am always open to hearing about potential writing opportunities.
I’m still a co-host of Kotaku Splitscreen, which, happily, lets me keep a toe in the world of video games. Some of my favorite games include Grim Fandango, Far Cry 2, Portal, No One Lives Forever, Half-Life 2, Rock Band 2, Bloodborne, Final Fantasy Tactics, The Last of Us, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 80 Days, Persona 4, The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, Warcraft 2, Journey, Undertale, Divinity: Original Sin 2, The Secret of Monkey Island, The Witcher 3, and doubtless a bunch more that I’m forgetting.