Recording ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 3 Score Is “Extremely Time-Consuming,” Says Composer Jeff Russo

The Star Trek Universe panel offered some insights into the third season of Star Trek Discovery, but nothing on the progress of post-production as fans wait for the third season, which still doesn’t have a release date. However, another Comic-Con@Home panel offered up some details on one of the more difficult challenges for post-production during quarantine: recording the score.

Russo talks Disco season 3 recording

When TrekMovie spoke to Discovery composer Jeff Russo in April, he believed that he couldn’t start work on recording the score for the third season until the pandemic lockdown lifted in California, so he could gather together the dozens of musicians, engineers and others needed for recording on a scoring stage. But as the pandemic lockdown continued into May, Russo and his team developed a new process to record scores remotely.

During a “Behind the Music” virtual panel for Comic-Con@Home, Russo said he has used this remote recording technique successfully and completed the scores for the second season of Umbrella Academy and the first season of Cursed, both of which were released on Netflix in July. Russo gave an overview of the process:

Luckily Star Trek: Discovery had finished production, so for post-production everybody is just working from home. We will be able to finish that season of the show… All those things that finished production beforehand, we were able to do. We had to put together a remote orchestra, including Star Trek, which is 40 people all in their bedrooms or all in their garages. All of them talking to my engineer about where to put the mic, what mic to use. How to do this and how to do that to get the most out of that sound, so we can take all 40 of those performances and edit them together and magically make them sound like we were at the Warner Brothers scoring stage or the Fox scoring stage, which are the two places I normally work. And that has been EXTREMELY time consuming and extremely complicated but it has been also extremely fulfilling.

Officially CBS has been saying that the third season is coming in 2020. However, those who work on the show have made it clear that post-production for a show like Discovery is very complicated, especially during these times. Earlier this month co-showrunner Michelle Paradise implored fans to be patient, saying “our incredible team is working nonstop to bring it to you as soon as possible. It’s taking a bit longer these days, but it’s worth the wait.” In June, editor Scott Gamzon had a similar message, reporting that the team was “working as best and as fast as we can,” but he also noted that working from home “presents numerous challenges that have slowed down our process.”

July 27 UPDATE: CBS Announces October 15 release date for Discovery season 3

Discovery season 3 is still coming in 2020 according to a graphic shown during Comic-Con@Home Star Trek Universe panel

With musical homage, a little goes a long way

Russo also talked about his approach to writing the scores for both Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard, and how he doesn’t have to be heavy-handed when it comes to incorporating classic Star Trek music to get the desired effect:

I think that it is so fantastic that some of the best composers that have ever been, have written some of the most iconic themes for this particular franchise: Jerry Goldsmith, Fred Steiner, Alexander Courage; the list is pretty long. So whenever I get a chance to tell the story by just pinging on the heart a little bit by playing the Courage theme or playing Jerry Goldsmith’s theme or Jay Chattaway’s theme, or any of these themes where literally all you have to do is play a couple of notes and [snaps finger] you are instantly taken right there. That makes my job easier, so I love doing that. It’s thrilling for me to weave something like that into something I have written, because it gives me the opportunity to jump five steps without having to do much. I just have to use those three notes and it really puts me there.

He offered an example of how sometimes even when he is trying to be very subtle with it, fans notice:

It was very apparent to me too when I used two notes from the original Romulan theme in the first episode [of Star Trek: Picard], just two notes in two different rhythms. I did it kind of, ‘I wonder if anybody will pick up on this?’ And the first episode came out and my Twitter was flooded with, ‘Oh my god, the Romulan theme!’ It was very fulfilling to me to know that people are paying that much attention and you can just use a very small thing and have it be that effective and have that sort of response.

Russo also talked about how he has approached Picard and Discovery differently and about his work on Fargo. You can see the full panel moderated by Star Trek: Discovery’s Mary Chieffo, which also includes composers Sean Callery (Homeland), Maggie Phillips (Fargo), Torin Borrowdale (Locke & Key), Amanda Jones (Twenties), and Nathaniel Blume (Prodigal Son).

More Discovery and Star Trek Universe from Comic-Con@Home

During the Star Trek Universe panel on Thursday the Discovery cast had a brief Q&A which provided some insights into season three, so check out our full recap for more. We also had coverage of all the other Star Trek Universe shows so check out all of TrekMovie’s CC@Home coverage.

Russo’s Star Trek scores available now

You can pick up Russo’s score for the first season of Star Trek: Discovery at Amazon on MP3, CD, and Vinyl. Season two is available on MP3 and Vinyl. The first season of Star Trek: Picard is available now on MP3, a vinyl release is coming soon.

Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at

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I can appreciate greatly Russo using musical dues from the original show. It lends such weight and reality to a situation. It gives short cuts to more knowledgable viewers and teaches newer viewers. My thought is, why just use a couple of notes from those quotes? Go ahead and use the whole thing – at times. Talk about continuity/canon!

Some of that may have to do with copyrights and payments to the original composers (or their estates). I’m not an expert, but I remember hearing that the first seven notes of the song “Unlimited” from “Wicked” are the same as the first seven notes of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (to a different rhythm), as a tribute to the score of the 1939 “Wizard of Oz” film — but that after that, the tunes diverge, because if there was one more note in the “quotation” the producers of “Wicked” would have to pay royalties to the estate of Hal Arlen (who wrote the songs for the ‘39 film).

I don’t know whether that “seven note quotation” is a hard-and-fast rule, or whether there are other elements that come into play, but clearly the quotations from Jerry Goldsmith’s TMP theme and Jay Chattaway’s “Inner Light” theme in Russo’s title music for “Picard” are enough to require mention in the credits, and I’d guess a payment too.

I’d also imagine that Russo has a certain budget to work with in creating a score for a TV show, and sometimes might have to consider, “do I want to quote from this Alexander Courage theme here, or do I want to have another trumpet in the next recording session?”

I didn’t know there was a romulan theme. It makes sense there would be but I guess it doesn’t have the recognizable fanfare of the Klingon theme.

Russo’s work on the two new Trek shows has been a mixed bag for me. I definitely like some of it: the Picard main theme and end credits are both outstanding and some cues really do it for me – my favorite theme has been the track “Lost Communication” from the S2 DSC score.

As far as the incorporation of classic Trek themes are concerned: while I like the attempt of adding some of it to his scores, Russo is not very convincing at it. In most parts, the old cues seem to be strangely out of place, the most prominent sample is his strange use of the classic Trek fanfare at the end of the DSC main theme.

His use of the TOS Romulan theme however was very very well done. The use of the TNG and VOY themes on PIC was a bit odd when it comes to musical details. They seem to be strangely out of sync in part.

Russo’s music is fine in parts, but lukewarm as a whole. He’s not nearly as sophisticated and refreshing as Giacchino’s epic trilogy.
While I’m glad, the days of McCarthy’s and Chattaway’s ongoing “sonic wallpaper” approach are over, I truly miss people like Ron Jones, Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner.
I still think Trek needs some new blood on the musical side, even if it meant going back to the roots of TOS and early NextGen scoring.
I think John Debney did an awesome job on The Orville, though it is basically classic Trek redux. I would love to have Debney on Strange New World, doing what he has done best since his SeaQuest days: emulating traditional, adventurous Trek scores…

Did he compose the theme tunes for Discovery and Picard? If so, they’re the most bland and unmemorable intro music I’ve ever heard.

Compare and contrast to something like the Mandalorian where the main theme is instantly memorable and recognisable. I couldn’t even hum either Discovery or Picard atm…

I think Bear McCreary would have been a better choice to compose the music of the new Trek or Ramin Djawadi, the guy who did Westworld and Game of Thrones. Those are the kind of guys that still do epic and memorable scores. The thing is there hasn’t been a single Jeff Russo theme that has been hummable for me. I think he likes his scores to be a little more normal and not very epic in scope.

The scores on GoT and WW are great, the main themes just awesome and epic. It would be great to have either McCreary or Djawadi work on Trek.

But the PIC theme is more than accessible for me as well. I love it. Maximum hummability.

The DSC theme will never stand on its own on my mind because I instantly mix and mingle it with my beloved Hoist the Colours tune from POTC3.

You’re exactly right that the Picard theme is more accessible than the Discovery theme. I like Picard’s theme, whereas Discovery’s themejust kind of wanders around aimlessly. With the shift to the far future and away from TOS era, they really could introduce a whole new theme for Discovery. Although I doubt they’ll do it, it would be a welcome change most likely.

The DSC tune is a bland rip-off of “Hoist the Colours” from POTC3. But the PIC theme is just wonderful. The most beautiful Trek theme next to VOY and DS9.

Garth Lorca, I don’t hear at all how you can see the DSC theme as derivative of Hoist the Colours.

Different in melody, different in rhythm/synchopation, different in style.

In seemed like such a stretch so I just made myself listen to Hoist the Colours again, to see if I’m missed something. Still nope to my ear.

Meanwhile, I can clearly hear both the bass line and the upper melody of the Discovery theme clearly in my mind any time I choose to think about them.

The Picard theme took a bit longer to lock into memory, but it’s great too.

If I have any issues with Russo is that from time to time his music gets too melodramatic or intrusive at some of the big moments (e.g. trombone splats), but if it’s that vs 90s “no melody allowed” Berman-era music, my preference leans strongly to Russo.

Wow, there’s hardly any difference between the DSC theme and Hoist the Colours. Yeah, some single notes are different but that only contributes to the confusion whenever I try to hum the DSC theme successfully. I always end up with HTC :-) Stylistically, there’s a huge difference, with HTC being far superior in the Track 10 soundtrack version of POTC3. No idea what synchopation means…

“but if it’s that vs 90s “no melody allowed” Berman-era music, my preference leans strongly to Russo.”

I know what you mean. It’s especially bad with most of what Chattaway did back then. The one and only great theme was created for Scorpion.
McCarthy had his moments, but he only shone on the GEN score when he simply ignored the sonic wallpaper edict.

I feel a strange attraction towards David Bell though. I know, he basically used the same musical cues time and again and again… but I like that Bell theme a lot. It’s my guilty pleasure of the Berman era.

The Star Trek Generations theme is probably my favorite to play on the piano. It spans almost the whole keyboard! It’s right up there with Star Trek: First Contact (close second), DS9, and Voyager on my play list.

Can you please tell me what POTC3 is?

The movie Pirates of the Caribbean 3.

i hate star trek fans… the picard them is gorgeous

No offense man, but all you do is moan about people who is just giving their honest opinion. If you don’t like it, fine, but you’re always here so it can’t be that bad, right? And if you think Star Trek fans are bad, you obviously haven’t spent any time on the Star Wars boards recently (unless they are talking about The Mandalorian).

I’d love to agree with you, but I honestly can’t remember it. and I watched every episode twice.

The Picard theme is great and really captures the heart of Jean Luc Picard. It’s spot on!

Couldn’t they actually use some of the music that they composed for the first two seasons of the show? I mean in an ideal situation yes, all new music is good, but even in Trek we have seen many instances where the same musical cues were used almost without change in different episodes or shows.

I’m not certain, but I think that practice has been pretty much abandoned. Yes, it was common in the ’60s, but even by the time of TNG I don’t think they ever recycled music from one episode to use in another.

Oh they do recycle tidbits of score even today. The strangest sample was the use of a DSC cue on PIC when they first showed La Sirena on screen. That was a total waste of potential to introduce the heart of the new show on a recycled cue from another show…

It wouldn’t make any sense. S3 is supposed to be entirely different, set in a different era with new foes and players. So the S1+2 scores probably wouldn’t work at all.

Wow, this is really an incredible effort to bring the music together.

I’m awed, but I’m also thinking that CBS and Secret Hideout should have an alternative in place for SNW and their other new series.

Film and television orchestration have been done for major U.S. productions in Vancouver and Toronto since the 1980s. This was even been the case when shows were otherwise 100% produced in the United States. In fact, Russo himself is connected to production in BC and has done seminars for composers there.

Doesn’t BC have the same Covid restrictions as California?

No, the situation is different for production and post-production, because the pandemic is better controlled in Canada.

BC planked the curve early.

Currently, there are around 30 or fewer new cases a day. It has been in level 3 reopening for some time.

The guilds have negotiated Covid practice guidelines. Film and television production has restarted, and some major series are starting up. I haven’t seen anything on instrumental music, but it would be possible to do it in smaller groups if not a full orchestra.

Ontario and Quebec had bigger outbreaks, mainly due to tourists and snowbird seniors returning from Florida and New York. Those too are largely controlled. Ontario is running 100-200 new cases a day with 15 million residents.

Toronto is still in stage 2, waiting a steady trend, but close with only 39 new cases today for a population of over 6 million. Everyone is expecting the provincial government to allow Toronto to move to stage 3 within a week or so.

Cool, thanks for the details!

I’m not surprised that Canada has a better handle on the pandemic than the US does. (Then again, it seems like just about everybody has a better handle on it than we do.)

In that case, I’d have thought that since Discovery was filmed in Canada, it would be possible to record the score there as well. But perhaps there are existing contracts that make that unfeasible.

Honestly I nearly teared up hearing both the Romulan and Voyager themes on Picard, especially Voyager. It’s still the best Star Trek theme song IMO. I can still listen to it like it’s the first time.

Star Trek music is beautiful.

Yes, it is one of the most beautiful themes ever. Because it feels so deep and melancholic while still being hopeful and uplifting at the same time. It has this semi-celtic feeling that had also been part of the Inner Light flute piece. In a way, it’s a musical reply to the Inner Light. But it also mirrors some of VOY’s most beautiful cues…

Wow, I don’t think I ever heard it explained in such a way before. But now thinking about it, I have to agree. And you’re also right besides the fact it’s just beautiful it does feel very hopeful and optimistic. I mean I probably heard it a thousand times at this point because I rarely skip the credits when I watch the show even now. I never get tired of hearing it.

He should take his time. Don’t rush it or overdue it. I’m as patient as a cucumber.

I don’t think we have a choice either way. And it’s probably why we are getting Lower Decks first because of it, which I’m fine with. I’m definitely more excited for DIS but LDS looks like its going to be tons of fun at least. And hopefully DIS will be nearly ready to go when that show is done.

BTW: Who is going to score Lower Decks? Ryan Elder from R&M? Or anyone else? Does anybody know?

Cucumbers are patient? I must confess Ninja that I have never heard this expression before!

lol yeah, I think it’s “cool as a cucumber.” Maybe Ninja meant “patient as a pumpkin”?

This guy has lucked out massively by getting the Star Trek jobs. A mediocre ‘talent’ at best.

The only good parts of his scores are the homages from better composers.

Seems like a nice enough fella, but Trek needs more.

I’ve lost a lot of interest in season 3 because it’s taken soooooooooo long. I’ve watched all Star Trek shows and episodes since it’s inception. I’ll stick with Picard.

I love Russo’s themes for both Discovery and Picard. And I like that he slips musical cues into the shows’ scoring at times.

The Alexander Courage “sting” at the end of Discovery’s theme is as awkard as it is at the end of Giacchino’s score. [shrug] I guess it “has to be there” bc, Star Trek?