You might not know her name, but you certainly know her work. That’s because Tori Letzler is a female composer and vocalist who has been a part of some of Hollywood’s biggest movies and TV shows. Take a look at her IMDB credits and you’ll be scrolling for days.
Maybe you’ve heard of the movies Wonder Woman, Avengers: Infinity War, Kong: Skull Island, Thor: The Dark World, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 … or TV shows including The Crown or American Horror Story? Yeah, thought so.
In addition to creating music for film, TV and video games, Tori also scores her own projects and sings. Among her most exciting projects is The Future is Female Concert, an annual event she founded to showcase the contributions of women composers in film and television, as well as the global music composition community at large.
Held at the historic Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, the concert is presented by KCRW and features the Hollywood Chamber Orchestra. This year’s headliner is Coco composer Germaine Franco.
(FYI, check out our Homegirl Talk interview with Coco actress Selene Luna, another fierce female.)
We had a chance to catch up with Tori to discuss gender equality, how to survive (and succeed) in a male-dominated industry and why you should never give up on your dreams even when the going gets tough.
Hi Tori! Thanks for speaking with Homegirl Talk. Tell us about the impetus for creating The Future is Female Concert.
The growing excitement over film music concerts is a big part of why I decided to go on this journey with FIF. I feel like film music is having a moment and that’s incredibly exciting, so why not ride that wave?
Interest in film music concerts continues to grow not only in the US but around the world, yet very few feature the musical works of women composers. Is that because there just aren’t that many female composers?
The lack of representation in those concerts was another big force behind FIF’s creation, and I think that is due in part to obviously fewer female composers scoring larger projects that would attract an audience for a live event.
However, the first FIF was made up of mostly unknown working composers and we sold out well ahead of the concert. For this [year’s] event, we have a venue triple the capacity of the first, we are split between up-and-coming composers as well as some veterans, and yet we have already outsold the previous event. I feel like the numbers and support speak for themselves. Hopefully my concert will help lead the way to more inclusion as we see these events continue to thrive.
How do you find the female composers to feature in your concert?
It’s a combination of things, and if I’ve learned anything while going through this process it’s that there is no lack of female composers in our industry. Sure, numbers for male composers are much higher, but the difficulty I’ve found with both concerts has been having to turn away composers who want to take part.
This year I really tried to find a stylistically diverse group of composers who would really lead an interesting show. Three of the women in this concert are returning from last year, some were recommended by colleagues, others by their agents and a few reached out to me directly. Both concerts have involved composers who I did not know personally before this event. I feel like events like these really help strengthen the female composer community.
What’s been your experience as a woman in a male-dominated industry and what’s your advice for other women in similar situations?
Honestly, there is no easy answer to this question. In my opinion, anyone who claims there are no gender politics in this industry are kidding themselves. The best piece of advice I can give is work hard and let your work speak for itself.
Myself and many other women I know have experienced various forms of harassment as well as having our intelligence and capability questioned. It’s a problem with the culture of our industry — for so long no one stood up and said “Hey, that’s not OK!” so we normalized the behavior, ignored it and accepted it.
Thankfully, we are finally starting to see certain behaviors called out and things are headed in a better direction. Again, constantly keep trying to learn and be the best you can be at what you do so no one can claim otherwise.
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How I write when I’m both the vocalist & composer – Once the ideas are out I’ll go back and split everything out. I often take videos while writing to record vocal lines as they naturally come 🎶 . . . . . . . . #composer #vocalist #filmscore #filmscoring #music #vocals #womeninmusic #womeninfilm #recording #homestudio #singer
Who are the female role models you look up to?
I find myself inspired most by other women in my industry. Women who have much more experience than myself, who are really the ones paving the way for the rest of us. Honestly, Ronit Kirchman who is in our concert is such a badass in my eyes. She’s scoring a hit show on USA and is also a mom — the amount of energy and work that takes is something I can’t even fathom. I feel constantly inspired by the women around me, and it pushes me to always do better.
In addition to being a composer, you’re also a vocalist in numerous movie and TV soundtracks as well as video games. What is your creative process like? Does a melody or sound just come to you and you write it down? What about when you’re commissioned to create something for a specific job?
Most of the time when I am hired as a vocalist, the composer already has a very clear vision of what they want done with a cue. That being said, I often get hired to do improvised vocals over a track and that is often a collaboration between myself and the composer. With composers I have worked with for years, I can usually anticipate what they want done on each cue and it allows for a much smoother creative process.
When improvising, I try not to pre-plan what I’m going to sing too much. I will listen through a cue once and then just start recording, because oftentimes the best takes are the ones which come naturally. I also frequently record remotely at the studio I share with my husband Steve Davis in Santa Monica. This allows for composers to keep working on the score while I take care of the vocal recordings.
I would describe your music as having a somewhat dark, moody and ethereal vibe. Your voice is otherworldly, sort of reminds me of Amy Lee of Evanescence but instead of singing words, you sing sounds. Who and what are your musical influences?
Wow, you nailed that one! Amy Lee has always been a huge musical inspiration for me both as a vocalist and as a writer. When I started writing songs as a kid, she was the artist I looked to most. I was always writing these really dark and cinematic style tracks on piano and at the time Amy was the only mainstream artist doing anything similar.
As a child, I sang for the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Choir in NYC, which helped me develop a love for singing in different languages, and then I went on tour with Cirque Du Soleil for two years as a lead performer and vocalist in their show “Quidam.” Cirque is known for their scores being a combination of world styles, and their vocals are written in made-up languages, which often reference those that are real, so I think that style had a huge influence on how I approach vocals now for film.
We increasingly hear and see the phrase ‘The Future is Female’ whether it’s in a march chant, music video or on a t-shirt. Why is the future female?
“The Future is Female” is a very strong phrase, it’s very clear what is trying to be said when someone hears that. However, at the end of the day I think that phrase just means “The Future is Equal.”
As a female in the entertainment industry, all I want is to be weighed equally on the scale with my male counterparts and afforded the same opportunities. I never want a woman to get a job over a man just for being a female and vice versa. I just want us to be considered equally for the same roles, which I think is hard for some people to grasp. It’s not about being better than, it’s about being equal.
As a vocalist, you’ve worked on some really huge projects including singing the main titles for “Wonder Woman” and “Batman v Superman.” What’s it like working on such high-profile projects and also with the legendary Hans Zimmer?
About seven years ago, I was lucky enough to start as an intern at Remote Control (Hans’s studio) and work up from there. Getting to learn under a roof that houses so many incredibly talented composers was the best kind of school I could ask for. Lorne Balfe was the first person to hire me as a vocalist there, and after that the rest is kind of history.
Working with Hans is always such a great experience. Hans comes at everything from a very “bandlike” mentality and it’s always super collaborative. Being in a room with him for even five minutes, it’s very easy to see why he has become the visionary we all know today.
Is there one overall message or purpose for the work you do?
The message I am trying to send is very simple, WE ARE HERE! Female composers exist, we work hard and we just want to be treated like equals in our industry. When you break it down to that, doesn’t seem so complicated after all.
What’s your advice to women out there who are struggling to make their dreams come true?
My biggest piece of advice is never give up. Do not ever let someone tell you that you are less than or that you cannot do something. Work hard and learn something new everyday, continue to challenge yourself and let your work speak for itself. Also, be nice to those around you 🙂
Learn more about Tori Letzler and the music she’s created for some of your favorite movies and TV shows.
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