With the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard showing on Paramount+, we wanted to ask the series composers, Frederik Wiedmann and Stephen Barton, some questions about scoring the well-respected series. In addition to composing for Star Trek: Picard, they have created music for a lot of other projects (Wiedmann’s done many DC animated films, and Barton composed music for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the “Fairy Godmother Song” from Shrek 2, and for Trey Parker’s Team America: World Police).
Interview of Star Trek: Picard composers Frederik Wiedmann & Stephen Barton
Show Snob: In what ways is composing for television different from composing for video games?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: I haven’t done too many games in my career, just selected cues for PUBG, and I am currently working on a “to be announced” game, but so far from my experience, the process is a lot longer. Movies and shows are “in and out” within a rather rapid schedule, whereas games can go on for years.
Especially when the game is a new IP, and there is a lot of trial and error, figuring out what works and what does not. Certainly requires a good amount of experimenting, and of course patience.
TV is moving rapidly fast, you better know your craft and have a good team around you to crank out the music and get it ready in time for the scoring stage. Both are fun and creatively rewarding but require different sets of skills.
STEPHEN BARTON: In many ways, not that different at all; the idea of production and making something sound as good as it can within the headroom you have available, is basically the same, and games consoles now often run higher resolution digital audio than we get on a film or TV dub stage, or with greater complexity of playback. It really depends on linearity – I’ve scored a lot of games now and they’ve all been more different from one another, frankly, than TV is from games overall, and that largely has to do with the very nature of how you get from one piece to another, and the nature of how you start and stop a piece of music.
Starting and stopping music is easily the most powerful tool a composer has at their disposal, which seems obvious, really, but we often focus very deeply on what happens in between those two points more!
Show Snob: What can you tell us about your experience with Star Trek: Picard?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: Working on Star Trek: Picard was (an) absolute dream come true. Extremely grateful to Terry Matalas for bringing me on to be a part of it.
I grew up watching Star Trek: TNG as a kid, so I was very familiar with the show and its characters. And also have been a major Jerry Goldsmith fan, since my passion for film music began, so now being asked to work on this show, AND to be able to play in Jerry’s thematic sandbox was absolutely incredible.
STEPHEN BARTON: Everybody says these sorts of projects are a dream come true, but this actually was. For real.
I watched Next Gen as a five-year-old. I remember the end of season 3 and the summer of 1990, where nobody knew how they were going to get out of the big Locutus cliffhanger ending of Best of Both Worlds, Part 1.
It’s legitimately a part of my childhood, so to be able to oversee the music for the end of that more than three-decade-long story…just an incredible honor.
Show Snob: Star Trek: Picard is obviously sci-fi. What, in your opinion, sets Star Trek: Picard apart from other sci-fi shows or films?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: I find Star Trek is very much more character-driven than a lot of other sci-fi stories, where the focus is often more on spectacular space chases, weird aliens, invasions, a futuristic environment, etc. Maybe that’s why it resonated with me so much as a kid, since you really get close to each member of the crew and get to be part of their journey.
It’s a like a family going on adventures. While ST obviously also has spectacular chases, explosions, and cool aliens, the focus seems to always be more on the crew and their arc. They are much more personal stories.
STEPHEN BARTON: It’s very much science fiction vs science fantasy. There’s nothing in Trek that isn’t at, least to some degree, plausible, it’s about one possible future for humanity and asks very deep questions about humanity itself, human history, and how we view ourselves in a universe where we might find there’s more life out there than just here.
It’s very much a humanist kind of show to me, whereas many other sci-fi properties are more quasi-religious – the Force being the best example of that. They’re closely related yet very different interpretations of the human condition.
Show Snob: Do you think everything has been done musically?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: Ha! No way!
Assuming this is a more general music question, apart from Picard, I think every year new music comes out that blows my mind. I listen to it and go “wow this (is) bold”!
It still happens, and quite frankly amazes me too, given all we have is 12 notes. But that’s the beautiful thing with humans, they have an everlasting thirst for curiosity, and for as long as we are exploring, we will find new ways to do things.
And I think we’ve moved into an era where music isn’t necessarily defined by chords and a tune, there is a lot more that those 2 elements that can make a great piece. Cool sounds, new recordings, new unorthodox records of traditional instruments, new synths, old synths but recorded differently, you name it.
It’s a fun sandbox to play in as a pro musician/composer. Especially in the world of film music, we are constantly trying to stretch the envelope and come up with something “special”, potentially unheard of.
STEPHEN BARTON [regarding the original question]: I certainly hope so! It was an incredibly fast process – we put together just over seven hours of music in four months.
After the first 2 1/2 months, where I’d written about four hours, I was just dead. I was incredibly glad that Freddie could come in and seamlessly weave through two episodes, so that we didn’t have to sacrifice the original vision Terry and I had, which was to score this 100% fresh and use as little “tracking” (reuse of older music from one episode into another) as possible.
Patrick Stewart, the icon and star of Star Trek: Picard
Show Snob: Patrick Stewart has played both Picard and Professor Xavier from the X-Men. What is it like being involved with projects that feature iconic pop culture characters?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: I would say the pressure is high! Ha!
In all seriousness, Patrick Stewart is a phenomenal actor, he fills the screen with genuine charisma, it’s simply a pure joy to watch him do his thing, whatever movie or show it might be. But scoring scenes with actors of his legendary status raises the stakes for us composers for sure.
You know the fans have expectations, especially in Star Trek, which is an IP that has a very loyal and fairly large fan base. You have to do the characters justice, and that often means to decide not to score certain scenes, if the performance is simply perfect and will be impaired with score, or just tread with immense subtlety instead.
STEPHEN BARTON: I often joke that it’s like being asked to add 10 feet onto the top of the Statue of Liberty, or to Big Ben, or something like that. You have the many competing pictures in fans’ heads about what “canon” is, what the tone of something should or shouldn’t be, and a director and a studio with a great many ideas about what they want their show to be like.
At the end of the day, you can only look at it honestly and push yourself to do your best work to honor that which came before; you cannot simply rely on pastiche, nor “throw out the baby with the bathwater” by being entirely new for the sake of being new. There’s a magic sweet spot on that spectrum, and a lot of it has to do with looking at the ethos, the “why” behind the music that came before.
Especially with themes, and not merely playing them, but developing them – but with the clear understanding of what the original composer was trying to do.
Show Snob: What advice do you have for aspiring composers and musicians?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: I think the best thing I ever did, which helped me immensely in many ways, was simply to write a LOT of music. Every single day.
I know many young composers simply, “waiting for an opportunity”, while they could be writing something cool, and unique that might catch someone’s attention and CREATE an opportunity. If you are not “out there” with your music, and let’s face it, right now it has never been easier to release your music publicly in one way or another, you can’t be “found”.
And the nice side effect of this is, you get better! Every cue you compose makes you a little better composer.
Your craft will improve, your production and arranging skills, your melody writing. Everything just gets better and better, so when the real opportunity knocks, you are ready!
STEPHEN BARTON: Learn as much as you can about production, and looking as objectively at your mix and music as you can. Ask questions about it – “am I really committing to what I’m trying to do musically”, or “is there more to be had”, is one that Terry frequently points us to.
Then just write as much as you can, for anything you can get your paws on. Ignore anybody who says you should be looking at agents, or managers, or that sort of stuff.
You have to have a product first. The foremost thing in film and TV is there isn’t usually time to do it all again, so a lot of it is the insurance value – the knowledge that you can deliver.
But if you’re not valued, just walk away. Good creative collaborators want to see you do well.
We aren’t running a charity, but we are giving of ourselves, and you have to look after yourself. Most of us are bad at that balance.
I certainly am.
Show Snob: For those who have never watched Star Trek before, what would you say is the best way to get into it?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: I think Star Trek: Picard can absolutely be enjoyed by folks that don’t have any or much knowledge about the show and it’s characters. It’s built that way.
I say if you enjoy science fiction, a good story, compelling characters, aliens, space chases, and the works, you should watch Picard on Paramount and my guess is you will most likely enjoy it.
STEPHEN BARTON: That’s a tremendous question. I guess there’s two ways – you could watch the Original Series (understanding that was made more than five decades ago) and then through the movies, then the Next Generation, and go from there into the different option (Voyager, DS9).
But to be honest, the movies are a great place to start, possibly with a quick read about who the characters are. First Contact is a superb film.
Show Snob: If there was ever a Star Trek/Star Wars crossover, how do you think people would react?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: Ha…funny question. Both have such massive and hardcore fanbases, that as with pretty much everything in this genre, you’ll find lovers and haters.
You can never please all, can you? But I for one would be 100% down to scoring it – so.. just putting it out there!
STEPHEN BARTON: With pitchforks and torches, I think. The biggest thing is that one is very much meant to be set in a different galaxy (Star Wars – “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”), whereas Star Trek is very much about Earth and humanity’s future.
It’ll probably just be the realm of fan fiction to combine the two. Although, there are some sneaky references within each to the other…a ship that looks quite like the Enterprise D is very subtly in the background of a shot of The Phantom Menace…
Show Snob: What sort of instruments and technology were used to compose music for Star Trek: Picard?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: We heavily relied on a live orchestral backbone in the score. We had the great privilege to record a large LA session orchestra for every episode.
The main idea was to stay true to the original Star Trek music from the greats such as Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Alexander Courage, Dennis McCarthy, etc., and that meant a large symphonic orchestral sound palette. In terms of special instruments, I used a solo cello for a large cue in Episode 7, which was a little outside the norm for this show, but a fun and unique way to treat the end of this episode.
In terms of technology, I’d say nothing too fancy, the usual suspends really. I work in Logic and Pro Tools, and like to mess around with all sorts of software synthesizers, which for Picard, was a lot of Zebra, Serum, Omnisphere, and Massive.
STEPHEN BARTON: The bulk of it is a good-sized symphony orchestra (recorded mostly at Warner Bros’ Eastwood Scoring Stage), but there are a lot of synths, programmed material, and unusual elements. Here I should give a big shoutout to my assistant Max McGuire, who also orchestrated a lot of the score.
We also worked with Craig Huxley, who recorded on the Star Trek: The Motion Picture score and others, recording the blaster beam, which plays a big part in the sound of the Shrike, Vadic’s ship. That was something from Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking work that I wanted to bring back.
I work in Nuendo and use a lot of other software like Reaktor, MetaSynth, Arturia synths, Zebra, Omnisphere; all the orchestral scores are done in Sibelius, which are then copied by Booker White and his amazing team based at Disney.
Show Snob: Are there any new projects you’re working on?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: I have a cool supernatural thriller called The Refuge coming out sometime soon, directed by Renny Harlin, a time travel original Netflix movie called Time-Cut and the next season of Netflix’s The Dragon Prince.
STEPHEN BARTON: I have three games coming out soon – Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, which Gordy Haab and I wrote around 8 hours of music for and recorded in London, over an entire month of orchestral sessions; The First Descendant, an amazing Korean project that I just finished; and the full official release of Multiversus. I’m also continuing to score Apex Legends, now working on its eighteenth season – and have two other game projects I’m working on over the next year.
And hopefully, getting some rest!
We’d like to thank Frederik Wiedmann and Stephen Barton for answering these questions. Go ahead and check out the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+.