Believe it or not, the industry icon behind chart-topping pop hits like Train's "Soul Sister" and Phillip Phillips' "Gone, Gone, Gone" is also the same talent behind some of WWE's most recognizable entrance themes.
Gregg Wattenberg's independent publishing company and label Arcade Songs has been creating hits for some of the industry's biggest names. In addition to crafting such successes as the #1 Billboard Dance Club Song "Sound of Your Heart" by Shawn Hook, the writers at Arcade Songs have been generating wrestler entrance themes for the WWE since 2012.
Though the songs are not developed for mainstream radio play, they're constructed just as acutely as any other hit single. How is a WWE entrance theme shaped? Wattenberg discusses how his composers CFO$ (John Alicastro and Mike Lauri) take a song from the think-tank to the TitanTron.
The first step: Write a song that is "instantly identifiable". Each song has to not only be recognizable, but also pair perfectly with each wrestler. Having developed music for superstars like Bobby Roode and A.J. Styles, Lauri and Alicastro ensure that they craft music that fits each character.
"They have a very clear vision – this should be more emo, this should be more goth, this should be hard-hitting riff rock," Wattenberg says. "It's kind of like hit songwriting but for wrestler themes. "
It's critical that the chorus of each song is powerful and arrives early. After finding the fit, the next step to the perfect theme is to precisely calculate the song's tempo and melody.
"There is nuts and bolts with all of this stuff," Wattenberg admits, "but if there's not something magical or sort of emotional connection happening, it's probably going to sound like you're a songwriter stuck in a room and told 'Go write a hit song.'"
Context is also key. Though a heavily layered song may sound amazing in a studio, it may not translate as well to a crowd of thousands. Thankfully, WWE veterans Kevin Dunn and Neil Lawi offer their advice to ensure the theme pleases audiences in every setting.
"We have overseers say, 'This is too complicated,'" says Wattenberg. "You're in an arena – that synthesizer will never be heard! That's a perspective none of us would have ever had if we didn't collaborate with them."
Regardless of how intricately composed the track is, in the end, if it doesn't pull an emotional response from fans, it won't work. Wattenberg uses Shinsuke Nakamura's "Rising Sun" as an example of a theme the resonates with fans.
"If there isn't some magic happening emotionally, I don't care how calculated it is," he says. "It's just going to sound like a calculated piece of music." Wattenberg continues, "If you look on YouTube [at] any of the Nakamura matches, the audience sings the whole thing."