NEW YORK (Billboard) - It broadcasts television shows in
130 countries and in 20 languages. It averages a weekly global
audience of 47 million viewers. It aired tongue-in-cheek
videotaped messages from Hillary Clinton, John McCain and
Barack Obama during an April broadcast. It is a pop culture
And yet there's something missing that World Wrestling
Entertainment still yearns for: the respect of the recording
"One of my frustrations is getting the word out about just
how much music is used in our product," WWE music director Jim
Johnston said. "The labels will stumble over themselves to get
on MTV, but no one's watching MTV."
The WWE is continuing to develop relationships with record
labels and publishers to find songs to feature in the
dozen-plus pay-per-view events it produces each year. Next in
line for the WWE treatment: hard rock band Shinedown, whose
single "Devour" from its forthcoming Atlantic Records album,
"The Sound of Madness," will be featured during the WWE "Night
of Champions" June 29 pay-per-view event.
For licensed music used in pay-per-view events and the
occasional weekly broadcast, the WWE sometimes showcases songs
by such well-known acts as Kid Rock or the Red Hot Chili
Peppers. More typically, it seeks out little-known bands
willing to provide their music for free, timing the airing of a
song around the release of a new album, according to WWE Music
Group general manager Neil Lawi, who listens to submissions,
maintains relationships with labels and frequently scouts new
That impact on sales from a WWE placement can be immediate,
even if a band won't get rich from the proceeds. For instance,
the March 31 episode of the company's flagship series, "Raw,"
featured the song "Leave the Memories Alone" by veteran hard
rock band Fuel as part of a tribute to retired wrestler Ric
Flair. Paid U.S. downloads of the song totaled less than 1,000
during the two weeks before the broadcast, but surged to nearly
8,000 during the next two weeks, according to SoundScan.
"I'm not claiming to be changing the face of the music
industry," Lawi said. "However, being on our shows makes a
significant impact in sales, creates awareness for bands and
these songs and provides a different platform for artists to be
The WWE also has established a sizable music business of
its own. Theme songs for individual wrestlers are at the core
of the WWE's use of music. Johnston composes most of the
entrance themes used in three weekly shows: "Friday Night
SmackDown" on the CW Network (moving to MyNetworkTV in the
fall), "Raw" on the USA Network and "Extreme Championship
Wrestling" on the Sci Fi Channel.
Since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking U.S. album sales in
1991, the WWE has released 17 albums that have sold a combined
5.9 million units. Many have appeared in the upper rungs of the
Billboard 200, including "WWE: The Music, Vol. 8," which peaked
at No. 24 on the album chart and has sold 48,000 units since
its March release. The top seller overall? "WWF: The Music,
Vol. 3," which has sold 1.2 million units in the United States
and was released in 1998 when the WWE was still known as the
World Wrestling Federation.
There's also a new album in the pipeline: "WWE: Anthology
II," a three-CD set of new Johnston music and alternate mixes
of older material tentatively slated for release later this
year or early next year, Billboard has learned.
But the importance of music to the WWE goes beyond sales
totals. Most of its albums are compilations of original songs
Johnston composes to accompany the showy entrances that each
wrestler makes before every match.
On occasion, the wrestlers themselves will enter the
recording booth. Fan favorite John Cena released an entire
album in 2005, "You Can't See Me," which has sold 364,000
"Radio won't play our stuff because their reasoning is that
it's promotional," said Johnston. "I'm like, 'Aren't singles a
promotion for someone's album?"'