In a recording studio high above New York City’s Times Square, Mike Lauri and John Alicastro are hard at work, crafting the entrance theme of your next favorite Superstar. At one end of their studio space, Lauri strums out ideas for an arena-rocking anthem on his acoustic guitar. At the other, Alicastro mans the keyboard and mouse at a nearby computer, tweaking tracks and making sure the latest mix of a new Superstar’s music is absolutely perfect before it blares through your TV speakers every week.
Known collectively as CFO$, the duo is responsible for the themes of Finn Bálor, Enzo Amore & Big Cass and every other New Era breakout star whose signature song you can’t get out of your head.
“Our primary goal is to capture what makes that person a Superstar,” Lauri told WWE.com. “It’s to capture their persona in the music and amplify it so the guy in the back of the arena, just as much as the person in the front row, can feel it when that Superstar comes out.”
The longtime best friends have been making music together since their high school days on Long Island. Lauri grew up playing guitar and looking for the right band to join. Nothing clicked until a mutual friend introduced him to Alicastro, who had been drumming since he was 8 years old.
“It was night and day,” Lauri said of the first time he played with his future partner. “I was like, ‘I have to switch teams and start working with this guy.’ ”
The two hit the ground running from there.
“Shortly after we met, we started writing songs and tried to put a band together,” Alicastro said. “But we were doing so many different styles that we couldn’t find one band to put it together. So we got some home-recording equipment and started demoing everything ourselves, compiling like 20 or 30 song ideas.”
They eventually realized that a band wasn’t necessarily the way they needed to go. As they learned how to produce music, the duo picked up as many instruments as possible.
“If you can play the piano, you can put that into any kind of instrument or synthesizer on a computer,” Alicastro said. “It opens the door of what you can play.”
That’s reflected in the wide variety of Superstar entrance themes they create. The pair is well versed in hip-hop, electronica and rock. In addition to their instrumental talents, Lauri and Alicastro also contribute vocals when a Superstar’s entrance music calls for them.
“I grew up on a lot of hip-hop, so I took to emceeing,” Alicastro said. “I wish I could sing as good as [Lauri].”
The duo’s first contribution to WWE was a monumental one. WWE tapped CFO$ to create a theme song for Raw. They produced “The Night,” which debuted during the Monday night institution’s epic 1,000th episode. The magnitude of their accomplishment didn’t click until months later, when they heard their song blaring over the speakers at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum.
“It was so surreal,” Alicastro said. “We grew up going to concerts there, and now we’re hearing our songs play over the same speakers. We’re rapping over the speakers at the Coliseum and no one knows who we are!”
“And us being us, we start rapping along to it,” Lauri added with a laugh. “People are like, ‘Who are these excited guys over here screaming at the top of their lungs?’ ”
After “The Night,” CFO$ moved into the world of Superstar entrance music, creating themes for Jack Swagger and Paige, and learning quickly how much music contributes to a Superstar’s presentation.
“When Paige debuted and won the Divas Championship, our song played,” Lauri said. “It was huge for us, as writers, to be part of such a moment.”
Today, the CFO$ are involved in the creation of Superstar entrance music from the moment the talent signs a WWE contract. That allows Lauri and Alicastro to be part of the process that sees Performance Center trainees, along with some of the biggest free agents in sports-entertainment, become Superstars.
“The really special thing about working on NXT Superstar themes is that Triple H is the driving force behind the process,” Alicastro said. “He makes it a point to get with the Superstars and figure out who they are, what they want to be, and what kind of song is going to help them come into their own. We take what we get from them and tweak [the music] to where we feel it’s perfect for that Superstar. It’s fun to collaborate and get a product that we might not have done ourselves.”
To show what their creative process and collaboration can produce, the CFO$ welcomed WWE.com into their New York City studio and took us through some of their favorite NXT entrance themes.
“A big thing we wanted to capture was both his human side and The Demon King,” Alicastro said. “We wanted to create a piece that spoke to those and gave a full representation of who Finn Bálor really is.”
So how do you get across Bálor’s demonic nature in music? The answer wasn’t in guitar chords or drum beats, but in tone.
CFO$ envision the song as a journey from the depths of Bálor’s otherworldly side to his human persona. The theme opens with a driving guitar riff that signals The Demon King being unleashed, building up to an orchestral drop out where Bálor’s human side breaks through and unites with the WWE Universe, throwing their hands up in elation.
Initially, the orchestral part of the song was not as grand as the song that plays Bálor to the ring on Raw. But a meeting with Triple H and Bálor changed the direction of the tune.
“We sat in a room and played it for them,” Alicastro said. “At the part when the drop out happens, Triple H threw his arms up, signaling that it would be this big moment. It was cool to see Finn take that, then we amplified it [in the song]. Now, it’s a staple of Finn’s entrance.”
“Bobby Roode’s music is, by far, the most glorious piece of music that has ever been created,” Alicastro said. “From the lyrics, to the vocals, to the harmonies, to the strings, it’s glorious.”
There aren’t many people who would disagree with him. Though you can count the number of times Roode’s entrance music has played on WWE Network since his arrival on one hand, “Glorious Domination” has taken the WWE Universe by storm. Even Roode’s fellow NXT Superstars have gotten on the “Glorious” bandwagon, as evidenced by Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa’s #GLORIOUSBOMBS on Twitter.
“We knew that Bobby Roode was a big signing for NXT,” Lauri told WWE.com. “We knew that he has a big personality and wanted to write something that had that grandiose feeling and make it as big as possible.”
The inspiration for something that over-the-top came almost immediately to the CFO$.
After penning a battle hymn worthy of the free agent signing, the CFO$ grabbed a couple buddies and some microphones to lay down the gang vocals for what would become an incredible entrance theme.
Since his arrival, Roode has promised to make NXT a little more glorious with every appearance. Although the CFO$ didn’t create the song with the intention of creating a catchphrase, they always try and make a little magic in their music.
“Almost every time that we write a piece of music, there’s a part we hope will translate into the ring and carry over,” Alicastro said. “To see Bobby Roode take ‘glorious’ to the point that he has now is really cool.”
“The real big thing we wanted to do with Enzo & Cass was make a hip hop version of ‘The Godfather,’ ” Alicastro said. “The main idea started with the mandolin strumming, creating an Italian atmosphere. Then, we added drums, horns and trombones. From there, we took it into hip-hop territory and made it weird, different and fun.”
Lauri and Alicastro also found common ground with “The Michael Jordan of Jargon” when it came to music, which made the process of creating the theme a breeze.
“We learned that Enzo was a big hip-hop head, so there was an instant camaraderie with him,” Lauri said. “That translated once he got in the studio.”
But while Amore may be talented at trash talk, did that translate into being able to spit bars in the studio?
“He’s a talented lyricist and a great rapper,” Lauri said. “When he performed, you got to see that. He totally twisted and made what we had written into his own. We couldn’t have been happier with the way that song turned out.”
“For Sasha, we really wanted to blend polished pop with edgy hip-hop, because that’s who she is,” Alicastro said.
In addition to being perfect for The Boss, Banks’ theme is also one of CFO$’s most personal works of art.
“The name of the song is ‘Sky’s the Limit,’ ” Lauri said. “What that meant for us was, ‘How do you break down boundaries in your life, your career, whatever you’re going through?’ [That’s] what we were personally going through when we wrote the song.”
The anthem ended up mirroring Banks’ journey, rising through the ranks of NXT, joining the main roster as part of the Women’s Revolution and finally capturing the WWE Women’s Championship last month.
“The way it connected to Sasha and the way fans have grabbed onto it is really rewarding for us,” Lauri said.
And if that wasn’t enough, the lifelong hip-hop heads had the pleasure of working with the legendary Snoop Dogg to remix the track for Banks’ entrance at WrestleMania 32. Even looking at the tracks playing back on their studio computers today, Lauri and Alicastro seem like they want to pinch themselves and make sure it wasn’t a dream.
“It’s insane,” Lauri said.
“We grew up with Snoop; it’s so cool that a rapper we idolized is doing something over one of our songs,” Alicastro said, struggling to find the words to describe the feeling.
Ultimately, that feeling turned out to be gratitude.
“Thank you, Snoop!” the two exclaimed.
Perhaps the tallest task the CFO$ have faced since they began collaborating with WWE was creating the perfect entrance music for Shinsuke Nakamura’s debut at NXT TakeOver: Dallas.
“We knew that Nakamura was going to be a big deal when he came over,” Lauri said. “His whole fighting style, it’s flamboyant and chaotic, but graceful. His entire movement needed a piece of music that was going to deliver.”
“We felt a lot of pressure,” Alicastro added. “Which is good, because I think it helped push us to get the caliber of song we got out of it.”
The duo had an idea of what they wanted to achieve, and inspirations to look toward.
“One thing that inspired us was the feel of Japanese video game music,” Alicastro said. “We grew up on “The Legend of Zelda,” “Final Fantasy” and “Metal Gear Solid.” Their soundtracks are brilliant. We wanted to achieve the epic feeling that they all have.”
“We were also inspired by the intricate violin style of Lindsey Stirling and the way she incorporates that with electronic music. We wanted to meld all of that together,” Lauri added.
The first part of the song that came to them was the frenetic violins that build up to The King of Strong Style’s arrival.
“There was something kind of hypnotic about it,” Lauri said.
After adding in piano and synthesizer, the pair spent hours listening to the small part of the song they had over and over, searching for the missing pieces. Twenty-five drum tracks and bass gave “The Rising Sun” the energy needed to match Nakamura’s unusual charisma. Despite having a solid track, the CFO$ felt they needed something more.
“We decided we needed some real violins to take it over the top,” Alicastro said. “That’s when Earl came in.”
That’s Earl Maneein, a New York City–based violinist who took on the lead violin parts of The King of Strong Style’s theme.
“It gave it this beautiful human feeling that you couldn’t get with what we were doing,” Alicastro said.
Although they felt they had a perfect theme on their hands, the CFO$ had to wait until Nakamura’s debut in Dallas to see if the NXT Universe felt the same way. When Nakamura slid into the spotlight for the first time to a huge roar of approval with their theme blaring in the background, they felt one thing.
“Relief,” Alicastro said with a smile. “This was a song we felt really, really good about. It had something special that we couldn’t quite put our finger on. To see fans respond that way was amazing.”
CFO$ are always working on something, whether it’s figuring out the best way to introduce a new NXT star to the world or adding a new twist on a current Superstar’s theme. And like every performer, there’s one thing that keeps them going.
“The reaction from the Superstars themselves, from fans and the whole WWE team has been awesome,” Lauri said.
“The fact that we get a positive response to our music is such a gratifying feeling,” Alicastro added. When we get positive feedback, it makes us want to make more themes and keep raising the bar.”