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Deep impact

Meet Dale Oliver, TNA Wrestling’s architect of a thousand songs

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

Professional wrestling is not simply about professional wrestlers doing what they do best. It hasn’t been for a long time – not since Vince McMahon launched a global phenomenon with the inaugural WWF WrestleMania in 1985 by glossing up a ho-hum-looking, niche pseudo-sport with big-time production values and over-the-top characters. One of the most important elements that McMahon relied on that hadn’t been commonly used before was customized entrance music, a way of establishing or accentuating a character’s personality through non-visual means. Music has since become essential to any wrestling organization worth its turnbuckles. Under the right circumstances, hearing just a note or two of a wrestler’s theme is enough to send a crowd into a Pavlovian frenzy. Witnessing and/or participating in that kind of base response is part of what makes wrestling such a thrilling spectacle in the first place.

As music composer and director of audio production for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (which appears to be in the process of being rebranded Impact Wrestling, the name of the company’s weekly Universal Studios-filmed program on Spike TV), Dale Oliver’s job is to generate those responses as often as possible – to make something immediately recognizable. While full versions of Oliver’s compositions run a couple of minutes or longer, he’s given only a few seconds to capture a crowd’s attention with a musical motif that speaks to an individual character. Considering TNA’s roster is a varied lot, each wrestler is ideally associated with his or her own idiosyncratic sound.

Abyss, a mentally disturbed brawler with a Hannibal Lecter-esque mask and scars up and down his arms, comes out to scowling hard rock. Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle’s music is anchored in pumped-up percussion and features a rap espousing his prowess at systematically beating the crap out of you. Immortal, the arrogant heel (read: bad guy) faction currently dominating TNA’s storylines, enters to a psychedelic classic-rock guitar riff that’s been manipulated and drawn out, while the Beautiful People, an on-again, off-again group of bitchy, image-obsessed females, have a theme that repeats a whiny yet catchy hook made by what sounds like a guitar. Sting, the Crow-face-paint-sporting hero you’d remember if you watched the now defunct World Championship Wrestling back in the ’90s, is accompanied by a guitar solo that sounds like it could have appeared on a Metallica record.

There are literally dozens of examples of Oliver’s work, as the TNA roster is in perpetual fluctuation. Wrestlers come in and leave at any time, or specific characters undergo tweaks. Once in a while, a wrestler makes his entrance with a song that he or she is associated with from another network if the company has permission to reuse the theme, or another composer provides music for the wrestler. But more often than not, Oliver is tasked with originals.

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