Music is Easy: Just Partner With WWE and Wrestlemania
- 5th April 2013
performing at last year's Wrestlemania 29
night, the biggest sports-entertainment spectacle
of the year, Wrestlemania 29, returns home to the
New York/New Jersey area that birthed the event almost
30 years ago. While fans are flying in from all over
the world to see such colossal match-ups as John Cena
vs. The Rock and Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H, just as
important to the "Mania" of Wrestlemania
is the music.
Diddy will be on hand to perform the event's official
theme song "Coming Home," and legendary
rockers Living Color will be playing WWE superstar
CM Punk to the ring as he prepares to do battle with
The Undertaker. Factoring in that Sunday's event will
be broadcast in over 100 countries in 20+ languages,
WWE remains one of the largest global platforms to
expose an artist. Last year's Wrestlemania saw then-recent
Bad Boy signee Machine Gun Kelly have his first major
mainstream exposure playing John Cena to the ring.
Other musical guests have been as diverse as the WWE
roster itself, including everyone from Aretha Franklin
and Cee-Lo to Flo Rida and Motorhead making appearances
to perform, not to mention licensed themes for their
pay-per-view events from artists that vary from Metallica
to Tinie Tempah to Christian rap-rocker Toby Mac.
with the company has not only increased these artists'
visibility, but has had a dramatic effect on their
sales as well. Wind-Up Records' Civil Twilight had
one song used in a single video package promoting
Sunday's event and, according to WWE VP of Music Neil
Lawi, sales jumped up the next week over 300 percent.
In 2011, when then-WWE Champion CM Punk began using
Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" as
his entrance music, it sold 125,000 that year, up
from the annual 20,000 which the song had previously
been selling. Such an effect is understandable as
music the company licenses gets heard worldwide from
every television playing WWE programming.
important to WWE's presentation is its own in-house
produced music, the vast majority of which has been
created by one man: Jim Johnston. For over 25 years,
Johnston has tailor-made the songs that accompanied
the entrances of some of the biggest superstars to
step into the ring. With hundreds of unique original
compositions to his name, his work has become synonymous
with the characters and memorable moments that continue
to solidify the company's unique space in pop culture.
We spoke to Johnston about the art of the entrance
your time with the WWE, you did some music for MTV,
was there much of a transition between your other
work and sports-entertainment?
Well, I was not just working for MTV, I was just a
freelance guy composing what I could get to compose.
MTV was a very hot thing at that time, and I did a
bunch of their IDs, and a bunch of shows for HBO.
I guess I didn't see much of a transition. As a composer,
you're working on what's in front of you at the time.
I really loved the opportunities to do all sorts of
things and tried hard to not get pigeonholed. I was
very conscious of doing different things, and I feel
that's why this situation did so well.
the WWE roster being among the most diverse on television,
requiring a just as varied selection of music, how
did you become proficient in so many different genres?
I haven't got the slightest idea. I just took them
on as they came up. I remember when I had to write
a theme for The Great Khali. I went on Google and
researched "Punjab province" and the first
thing that caught me was the area he's from was the
confluence of five rivers, which is why I named the
song that. I went on, followed every link I could
and listened to the top Punjab pop music. Somehow,
I was able to osmosis the stuff in and figure out
how to make those sounds. When weird things come up,
that's what I love, taking on that new challenge.
I've always loved all kinds of music.
what point when the company's creating a character
do you compose their entrance theme? Is there any
back-and-forth with the talent themselves?
In general, there isn't much back and forth with the
superstar. The timing of it can be anything from a
few weeks before they debut to literally the same
day. A lot of times I'll get a call on Monday at 3:00
PM that we've got a guy debuting tonight and he needs
some music. It gets a little hairy at times, but over
the years you get used to it. Basically, if at all
possible, it's great to get video of the guy to see
how he moves, because that gives me a big clue. If
you walked in the room, I could tell you the right
tempo of a theme for you, just by seeing you walk
because everybody moves with a tempo. I first try
to key in that part, like are they fast and frenetic
or big and plodding? Then, it's like scoring a film.
Do we want to feel scared? Happy? Courageous? Rebellious?
I always try to key in on what I want the audience
to feel when they hear this music and see this guy.
you ever test different characters' music at non-televised
events before they make their debut?
No. There's not really time. I pretty much take my
best shot at what I think is going to work, and most
of the time if it's not perfect, it's in the right
ballpark. More than anything, there just isn't time
to develop multiple ideas and do in-the-field testing.
it much different composing themes that are collaborations
with known recording artists?
It's very straight-forward. That started just to incorporate
the sounds of some of these great young bands that
are out there, as well as to help me with timing because
I compose very quickly but the process of recording
is physical and takes a certain amount of time. To
hand off the recording part to a band that may be
perfect for that particular sound is just a win-win
for everybody. The process is very simple. I write
the song, I work on the demo that is relatively close
to what the final piece will be, and then I hand it
off to the band and tell them "here is the song,
make it your own now." A lot of times it works
incredibly well. There's lots of times it does not
work at all, but you never hear about those because
they do not make the light of day. But in a lot of
cases, like the three different songs I wrote for
Motorhead, you get back exactly what you're expecting
because it's Motorhead. They do the Motorhead thing,
and knowing that, I'm writing a Motorhead song to
begin with. It's pretty easy for those guys to knock
it out, and it's actually fun getting to put a demo
vocal on and trying my best to sound like Lemmy, which
does not come naturally to me by the way.
recall reading that your original studio was in a
Yes, and it was probably the worst place for a studio.
If you went to a studio designer and asked for the
worst possible scenario for a sound studio, they would
have described this room. It was literally a bomb
shelter with four walls, floor and ceiling of exposed
concrete. I'd have to monitor on headphones, and I
recall hearing services in church right above me and
hearing the shuffling of feet during communion. But
when you're starting out in the music business, you
take what you can get.
there a particular moment you recall music becoming
really important to the product?
It was like on a logarithmic curve going straight
up of music importance. It went from guys walking
out with nothing who would grapple around and then
leave when the next guys would grapple around, to
this guy having music and this guy having music. It
was one of those things that obviously worked so well
that the guys with the music were getting the big
pops from the crowd. It quickly developed to guys
getting a theme when they got to a certain level of
success, like a benchmark to stardom. Not that long
after, the other guys had music too. Maybe, by design,
their music wasn't meant to be so entertaining. One
guy [wrestling plumber T.L. Hopper] I recorded a bunch
of toilets for his entrance theme, so that was not
a musical concerto to say the least. Music became
important early and quickly, and now it's critical
to the product as a big rock-and-roll music show.
Except it's not just rock-and-roll, and I think that's
so important. We can't just have a cavalcade of classic
rock music, we have to mix it up so that it's all
over the map so there's a delineation between characters
there any entrance themes or bits of WWE production
music that feature your actual voice on them?
this is for the serious trivia lover, it is me singing
Dude Love's theme and, while it stretches the definition
of the word, I did "sing" one of the early
Smackdown themes. I was hearing some early metal stuff
and was always shocked how bad the vocals were, and
that the lyrics were absolutely unintelligible. The
theme I had written was in this style, and I couldn't
find a singer, so I did it myself. There are no lyrics,
I just sang gibberish. I had fans contact me for a
lyric sheet which, of course, I could not provide.
actually played live once for a WWE crowd at Wrestlemania
That was a stretch for me. I have a pretty well documented
case of stage-fright. I'm not a natural performer
in the very least. I was able to pull that off because
it was so over-the-top. The Boston stadium was filled
to capacity and people were going out of their minds,
you're so inconsequential down there that I was able
to disappear into the moment, it was fun.
you ever played live at any additional WWE shows?
I played live once at Madison Square Garden, and there
was a period when we had "The Raw Band,"
which was fashioned after a "Tonight Show"
kind-of-band. We played during commercial breaks to
entertain the house audience.
there any piece you've composed that you're particular
proud of that you wished more people knew about?
I'm sure there are, but with so much going on on a
day-to-day basis, it's difficult to think of them
all. One of the things that I do that people don't
even know I do, is a lot of orchestral scoring for
promos and cold opens. It's one of my favorite things
to do because it's generally so emotional because
you're really storytelling in a movie style fashion.
Some of those pieces I'm really proud of, but sadly
they're used once and they go away. But I'm very proud
of a bunch of those.