Tori Letzler Talks 'Future Is Female' Concert & Gender Politics in Composing: 'This Industry Is a Boys Club'

Emma McIntyre
Tori Letzler

Composer and vocalist Tori Letzler is gearing up for the “bigger, badder version” of her annual Future Is Female concert Sept. 4 at The Wiltern in Los Angeles. 

The second annual event will feature the Hollywood Chamber Orchestra alongside a lineup of seasoned film and television composers -- Letzler included. KCRW and Live Nation are teaming up with the Alliance for Women Composers for the concert, which will highlight works by such musicians as Germaine Franco (TAG), Tamar-kali (Mudbound), Ronit Kirchman (The Sinner) and Cindy O’Connor (Once Upon a Time).

Similar to 2016’s The Women Who Score concert at Los Angeles’ Grand Plaza, which was also a partnership with the Alliance for Women Composers, Future Is Female aims to shine a spotlight on the many female composers working today. Letzler -- who has worked as a composer and vocalist on such projects as American Horror Story, Call of Duty and Batman v Superman -- talked to Billboard about the gender politics behind scoring and the multifold talent her job entails as both a composer and vocalist for movies, TV and video games.

What was the impetus for creating the Future Is Female concert?

We did a much smaller version of it in May of last year at a small theater in Santa Monica that only held 400. Film music's having a little bit of a moment lately. There's all these bigger composers going on tour; you have Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard and Danny Elfman all doing these really live, big productions. While I absolutely love those composers and I've worked with a few of them, there is very little female representation. ... I was having a chat with a contractor friend of mine named Mark Robertson, who's the orchestra contractor on this concert and the previous one. And I said, “What can we do?” He said, “Why don't you do your own concert?’" I laughed and I was like, “Well, I don't think I'm really capable of doing that.” And he said, "No, we can figure this out. We'll make it happen.” At the end of the day of the first concert, all of the women got work out of it. And that was the goal: to create visibility to get these women hired in bigger positions. So I just felt like we needed to do this again.

One of the statistics in the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is that only 14 female composers have worked on the approximately 1,000 films made from 2007 to 2016. What do you make of that statistic?

We're here, it's just getting those women that are actively working into the top percentage of films. And there's a very small number of women that are there, and those women have been working much longer than I have and have faced their fair share of gender politics to get there. ... It's just that the people that we see and hear about on a daily basis are for the most part white men. They've worked very hard to be where they are, but women in this industry, especially women of color, we don't have a lot to look up to. So it's just really important to me for this concert to help aid in visibility. …This industry is a boys club, and it's going to take a lot of work to make that culture kind of disappear and to make it acceptable for women to be put in the conversation for these bigger movies.

How did you pick the lineup for the event?

The first concert, it was mostly word of mouth from women I knew and recommendations from colleagues. This concert was a combination of three women that were returning from the first concert [Perrine Virgile-Piekarski, Jessie Weiss and Tangelene Bolton], who all got significant work after the first one and I felt like they needed to be in the second one, [and] we got a couple of recommendations from composers' agents. Then Germaine [Franco] came to us, because obviously I know who Germaine is and she's doing some fantastic work working on Coco and Tag. ... I wanted to pick people that are all doing really unique and interesting things and kind of pushing boundaries. That was important to me.

How does your scoring and singing process differ across the film, TV and video game platforms you specialize in?

The process with either both scoring and singing on video games is very different than that of film and television. Video games [have] so much more music in them; you’re talking about games that have 300 hours of possible game play. And the user designs their own story, so you have to have so much more music and so many layers and things have to loop. That translates to vocals as well, because you have to do so many different versions of the theme that you've sung. With film, you'll work on a score for a few months. Video games, you'll work on a score for a few years. With TV in particular, the schedules are just so crazy. You're scoring episode by episode, and a lot of times, you're doing that weekly. ... TV is definitely a constant race to the finish. I think it's the most challenging medium to work in as a composer.

What advice would you give to young girls and women aspiring to work in the music industry as a composer for different mediums?

The thing I like to tell people is: Let your work speak for yourself. Don't let all the bullshit get in your way. You’re going to face people that are going to think that you're not capable, that you're not intelligent because of what's between your legs, and it's insane. You have to be really strong to push through that and you have to let it not bother you. I think the best thing you can do is be the best at your craft as you possibly can. Be constantly learning, constantly changing and evolving.

Tickets for the Future Is Female concert range from $19.50 to $69.50 and are available on Ticketmaster.