A deep dive into how ECW manipulated the law and took advantage of the hottest tracks and grunge rock and 90s rap in order to cement their vibe as an outlaw promotion in a wrestling landscape that was, perhaps, far too sanitized.
You can't imagine Sandman entering the ring to any song other than Enter Sandman. Perhaps, it was performed by Motorhead and not Metallica, but Enter Sandman was the soundtrack for one of the cult-classic, fan-favorite entrances in all of professional wrestling.
ECW, which was under the guise of Paul Heyman from September of 1993 until they closed in 2001, built its following on being a rebel cause. Professional wrestling had to change. WWE and WCW were child friendly and fans of a certain demographic needed their fix of draining grittiness in pro wrestling to match an entertainment landscape that had grunge rock dominating the airwaves and Beavis and Butthead entering the zeitgeist by way of MTV.
Paul Heyman understood that professional wrestling needed its version of grunge-rock to shake up the system and as such, he created the ECW philosophy and mentality that is still present today in promotions such as GCW.
Part of the philosophy and the presentation for ECW was its use of popular music such as Enter Sandman by Metallica, Man in the Box by Alice in Chains, Even Flow by Pearl Jam, and much more.
Speaking with Brian Myers on the Extreme Conversations podcast, Harry Slash explained that ECW was able to get away with all of these things because Paul Heyman's father was a lawyer.
“Yeah, some songs he had the rights to via Tommy Boy Records and what have you. There was a loophole in the law because of bodybuilding competitions being broadcast on television, where, if the music wasn't broadcast directly and was only picked up on ambiently via microphones like they do with baseball. His legal loophole was, 'I'm going to keep doing it until I get a cease and desist letter from the lawyer, and then I'll stop doing it.' Okay. So that was his philosophy, his late father being an attorney, and Paul has credited it many times. He said it many times that if his father wasn't a lawyer, he never could have gotten away with what he got away with.”
That is a shorthand version. Paul Heyman, of course, tells a much more grandiose story about how, through three different types of “deals,” Extreme Championship Wrestling used the music that it did.
Paul broke this all down during a recent appearance on the Squared Circle Pit podcast, admitting that, yes, Tommy Boy records did help and yes, ambient music was a legal loophole, but mostly, they were just gangsters.
“We actually had three different types of deals in ECW regarding music. One, which is the easy one to talk about, they're all easy to talk about, the easiest one to talk about was there were several labels. Tommy Boy music was a sponsor of ours from the very early days, there was another label in New York [Matador Records] that had some real avant-garde music with some great up-and-coming artists. They would always provide us, Gerald Cosloy, I believe, was the president of the label. They would provide us with music.
We also went out of our way, like, in the very early days of ECW, we featured Slam by Onyx. We had written rights to that music, we had Jeru The Damaja. We had Three 6 Mafia. We were the first television show to ever feature Three 6 Mafia, and we had cut a deal with the band and the label.
"So we had, we had deals like that, you know, we went out of our way to find up and coming artists that we knew we could feature. We did have rights to White Zombie, we cut a deal for that. There was no money involved, it was a publicity deal, and a rights exchange, etc, etc, etc. That was the first type of deal that we had.”
Paul continued, “The second type of deal that we had was at times with playing the music video and inter-cutting the ECW action with the music video. So we would get certain rights to run the music video along with the ECW footage. As long as we didn't use the music live, which we ended up doing anyway.”
"The third one, which was like what we had with Metallica, or certain other — Natural Born Killaz for New Jack, and a lot of other music. We just gangsta’d it. We just stole it. At that time we were I mean, all puns intended for the name of our first pay-per-view, we were a barely legal promotion, we were gangsters, we had no money. First of all, we were in the most hyper-competitive environment in the history of sports entertainment/pro wrestling against two billion companies and we had no money. All we had was balls, bullshit, and bravado. So we would say, ‘Hey, Sandman's gonna come out to Enter Sandman by Metallica,’ and he did. So when we would get these cease and desist letters from the labels or from the publishers, what are they going to sue us for? We had no money. So, come and sue us. You can probably stop us with a court order. But then they're gonna have to pay their attorneys to go into court and file an injunction and then serve us, which we're pretty good at avoiding servicing for a while.”
Paul Heyman, who has often been considered somebody who could talk a group of wrestlers into walking through hell for him no matter how small an audience was, was also able to talk his way out of a lot of legal parameters once, as he puts it, the people threatening lawsuits realized ECW had no fucking money.
“So you know, what I would usually do is I would call the attorneys. These are some very big law firms, too. Loeb and Loeb. We had a famous battle with Loeb and Loeb and I sat down with them and they were recording as if it was a deposition. They were recording the meeting and I just said, Why don’t you give us the music? Why don't you let us publicize you? We will end up putting it on a video game, we'll end up putting it on an album and, you know, we'll all end up making some money on it. We'll run a lower third graphic, you know, publicizing your music. They would say, ‘No, you can't do that, you can't steal, and then backdoor your way into using our music after you stole our music.’
“So, I was like, ‘You guys should file a lawsuit. I'm here. You can serve me now. You want to run across the street to the federal courthouse? I'll wait for you and you could serve me and then they would realize, ‘This fucking guy has no money. They have no money.’ I mean, at our best, we had no money. So what are you going to sue us for? You're going to sue us to stop us. So they're going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation simply to stop us. It was easier just to let us do what we wanted to do.”
The next step was to figure out how to continue allowing this music while on pay-per-view. Paul, a manipulative genius, had a way around that as well, enter the ambient music argument.
“Once we got onto pay-per-view, there was the whole discussion of ambient music, like how baseball does it. When Major League Baseball plays licensed music at the ballpark, they're not paying rights fees. They may pay a small fee for the right to live usage. But they're not, when they're on NBC, or CBS or, or Fox, or ABC, or ESPN, or YES Network, they're not paying these rights fees. Because there's no direct feed, it's ambient, it's part of the background noise. So we can do a direct feed of our music, mostly on pay-per-view or when we were on TNN, so we didn't we weren't subject to the license fees.
“But in terms of using the music on the ECW program. Most of the time, we were just thieves... We were an outlaw promotion. We were the rebels in the industry. We were the disruptors. We were a barely legal promotion. We were Fight Club. Not only was that part of the lore of ECW, it was the only way we were going to survive. We had no money when I stepped in to run the creative in ECW. In September 1993, Tod Gordon, who was the owner of the company, was quickly running through a line of credit that was backed up by his family's jewelry business and he was at the end of his rope. There wasn't any money left and literally, every show that we ran had to sell out at the ECW arena, or there was not going to be a next show. So the first six months in ECW every show was do-or-die, life or death. By the time I changed the name from Eastern Championship Wrestling to Extreme Championship Wrestling. Again, we were you know dollars away from bankruptcy. You know, we lasted seven and a half years on the balls of our ass. Here we are now 25-30 years later, we can discuss the fact we were a gangsta promotion. We were an outlaw promotion and we did outlaw things. We don't need to glamorize it and play into the fantasy that, ‘ECW is a gang of rebels and, and outlaws and gangsters,’ because we were. It was the only way that we were going to survive in that era.”
Survive they did. To this day, Tommy Dreamer has to come out to the ring to an instrumental variation of Man in the Box because his career became synonymous with that song. Heyman has also gone on record as saying that The Sandman entering the venue at ECW One Night Stand 2005 to Metallica's Enter Sandman was such a moment that Vince McMahon himself jammed out to the song while sitting next to Paul Heyman and eating a power bar.
It has been said that music is the window to the soul and Paul Heyman knew that and dammit to hell he was going to leave a lasting impression on the audience no matter how much bullshit, balls, and bravado it took.
If you use any of the above quotes, please credit the original source and link back to this article crediting Fightful with the transcription.