When WWE Wrestlers Need Music, They Call This Industry Insider (And No. 1 Hitmaker)

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Dean Ambrose

At his Arcade Songs, independent publishing company and a label venture with RED/Sony, Gregg Wattenberg is known as the hitmaker behind tracks like Train's "Soul Sister", Phillip Phillips "Gone, Gone, Gone" and his roster of writers including Todd Clark and Derek Fuhrmann have recent hits with Kygo’s “Raging” and Shawn Hook’s “Sound of Your Heart,” a Dance Club Songs No. 1. But on the side, he’s quickly becoming a go-to for a different kind of hit -- bone-crushing themes for WWE wrestlers.

The partnership began with Wattenberg’s former Wind-Up label, which previously licensed many rock songs to WWE. Since 2012, Arcade Songs crew of writers, headed up by John Alicastro and Michael Lauri, writes much of the league’s music, as well as the theme for E!’s WWE reality series, Total Divas, which returns this fall. “We’re a well-oiled machine,” says Wattenberg, who, wrestling aside, is currently in the studio with Jason Mraz, Grace VanderWaal and Stanaj.

And though Wattenberg says his “two worlds” of music rarely cross, the formula for putting together the perfect wrestling theme can be just as scientific as crafting a pop hit. Below, Wattenberg breaks down how composers John Alicastro and Mike Lauri give wrestling music its muscle in four steps.

STEP 1: FIND THE FIT

Alicastro and Lauri, who has crafted music for A.J. Styles, Bobby Rude and others, needs to understand a character to create a theme. The wrestlers “have to be instantly identifiable” by their songs, he says. This is especially true of newer wrestlers, who often go through several “characters” before finding a good fit.

“They have a very clear vision -- this should be more emo, this should be more goth, this should be hard-hitting riff rock,” Wattenberg adds. “It’s kind of like hit songwriting but for wrestler themes.”

STEP 2: AMPLIFY A HOOK

Whether a rock track or a pop theme like Sasha Banks’, Wattenberg says that “the chorus has to come quickly” in a song -- and if it’s too slow, it’s a no-go. “The song has to be in a certain tempo range,” he says.

But Wattenberg warns against over-calculation, noting that sometimes, it’s the unexpected sounds that are the most inspiring. He points to the popular theme song for Japanese wrestler Shinsuke Nakamura, “Rising Sun,” an “unbelievably anthemic” melody played on violin.

“There is nuts and bolts with all of this stuff,” he continues, “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.’”

STEP 3: ARENA-PROOF IT

What works in the studio doesn’t always translate to a 20,000-person crowd. “We have overseers say, ‘This is too complicated,’” Wattenberg says. “You’re in an arena -- that synthesizer will never be heard!”

Wattenberg says he counts on longtime WWE fixtures Neil Lawi and Kevin Dunn to “keep things on the rails” once the directive for a song is set. “That’s a perspective none of us would have ever had if we didn’t collaborate with them,” he explains.

STEP 4: AWAIT APPROVAL

Directives and formulas will only get you “half of the way there,” Wattenberg says. In fact, he values an emotional response to a theme more than any other form of feedback.

“If there isn’t some magic happening emotionally, I don’t care how calculated it is,” he adds. “It’s just going to sound like a calculated piece of music."

Again, Wattenberg turns to “Rising Sun” as example. “If you look on YouTube [at] any of the Nakamura matches,” he says, “the audience sings the whole thing.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 23 issue of Billboard.