Women composers dominate at San Diego Comic Con

If you’re like me, there’s always one panel from a convention weekend that sticks with you more than any other—and the 8th “Musical Anatomy of a Superhero” panel orchestrated such a satisfying chorus at SDCC 2022 that I can’t get it out of my head. For the first time in the beloved panel’s history, there were more female composers present than their male counterparts…and that was music to our ears.

Moderator Michael Giacchino (Spider-man: No Way Home, The Batman, Thor: Love and Thunder) and guests Christopher Lennertz (The Boys) and Christophe Beck (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantummania) were joined by musical powerhouses Natalie Holt (Loki, Obi-wan Kenobi), Nami Melumad (Thor: Love and Thunder), and Amie Doherty (She-Hulk: Attorney at Law). Not only are these women amazing musicians and composers who can hold their own in this male-dominated field, but they play integral roles in the coolest franchises out there. (And while Giacchino, Lennertz, and Beck are all fantastically skilled composers who have created some of my favorite music, they aren’t the focus of this post—if you’d like to learn more about their careers, just click on their names.)

Anyone who can experience music through auditory sound or physical vibration knows that a film score is a major part of visual storytelling. Music, or the absence thereof, helps the audience understand the feelings of the characters on screen, and in turn, guides each viewer on their own emotional journey. The most famous example comes from the mind of John Williams—would Jaws be quite as terrifying without the now-iconic “shark theme,” which consists of just two notes, but conveys dread, suspense, and impending danger? In short, film scores are just as vital to a movie or tv show’s success as writers, directors, editors, and actors are.

Amie Doherty

Luckily, women like Holt, Melumad, and Doherty are up for the challenge, even when having to take on jobs that come with intense fan bases and space-high expectations. Melumad is the first female composer in the Star Trek franchise but doesn’t let the legacy of the classic music deter her. During the panel, she emphasized that she embraces the essence of Star Trek without overusing the existing themes—a tightrope walk, if there ever was one. Doherty is in a similar situation, as she is currently composing the upcoming She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. You have to “find your own sound within [an established universe like the MCU],” she said.

But what goes into finding your own sound? Obviously, this is a very individualized experience and process for each composer, but for Holt, inspiration often comes from other musicians. “I try to go to a lot of concerts,” Holt explained. She also does her best to then bring those musicians into the studio to be part of whatever score she’s working on. And by exposing herself to music she may not have encountered before, Holt opens doors in her own imagination. “I’ve been trying to get the gamelan into something,” she said, lamenting that she hasn’t been able to find just the right project for it. (Gamelan is traditional Indonesian ensemble music that has been used in western media like Avatar and Star Trek.)

Natalie Holt

Much of the time, musical inspiration comes from the characters themselves. When an audience member asked Holt about the “Lokification” of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in episode five of Loki, Holt described the moment when her own ideas for the scene met Classic Loki (Richard E. Grant). “I wanted something over the top, a flourish, something Shakespearean,” she said. But it wasn’t until she saw the older variant of the titular character that everything clicked, and she realized how his emotion and story arc would influence the score. “It just kind of evolved organically.”

Melumad agreed that “once you have [things like character themes], it’s like a puzzle is solved.” And for her, she finds that both her career as a composer and her role as an audience member come down to emotion. “I often listen to soundtracks before I watch the movie. I’ve been doing that for 20 years.”

Nami Melumad

Doherty has doubtless been listening to all the MCU scores lately, as she hinted that She-Hulk will contain a wide variety of “musical Easter eggs.” One can only imagine that this means we will hear hints of character themes from other films and shows…and possibly see said characters, too.

So what’s next for these women who are taking Hollywood by storm? They can’t disclose what they are working on in the future, but we can support them by engaging with what they have recently scored, or what is currently or soon-to-be airing, regardless of whether or not it’s super-hero-related. You can catch Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Melumad) on Paramount and both She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (Doherty) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Holt) on Disney Plus.

Here’s to hoping we get to see even more women composers at next year’s panel! 🖖🏽