Friendly Fire Licensing is a sync licensing company based in Los Angeles. they represent a wide catalogue of music for inclusion in tv shows, movies, commercials, and video games, including labels like Chemical Underground, Cherry Red, Kompakt, Kranky, Rune Grammofon and Sinnbus, but also a worldwide roster of acts.

Thomas Venker and Dan Koplowitz met up online, right after one of Dan´s intense travel trips around Europe, attending a handful of music festivals to discover new music, something he is doing on a regular basis.

Dan, following you on social media it feels like you are more on the road than in your office. Would you agree that this is essential for your working habits?

Dan Koplowitz: You can’t get involved with the music scene without going there and meeting the people and experiencing it for yourself.

Let’s go back two steps: The first time I met you in the late 2000s in Montreal (during Pop Montreal festival, I think) you were still running Friendly Fire Recordings as a label. Can you lay out how it passed that you changed your company profile in the direction of sync?

Yes, I started my career running a label. I put out my first record in 2003 – and for the next 12 years my focus was on doing the label. I transitioned around a decade ago from the label to sync, it happened very naturally. This was during a time I got quite frustrated with the label, things were getting difficult from 2010 on. It was hard to sell records at the time. The physical sales were going down, and Spotify did not fill the gap. We had a few bands on the label – Asobi Seksu and The Phenomenal Handclap Band – that were getting licensed, it was kind of just falling into my lap. So I made the decision to focus on that more intentionally. And as I was friends with the people from other labels and lots of bands, and I knew music from different backgrounds, I decided to teach myself how sync works, and just began meeting people and making connections with music supervisors.
Fast forward to now: We are a sync agency – we are sellers, not buyers. We act on behalf of labels, publishers and artists – we represent the creators and pitch their music to tv shows, commercials, movies, video games. I don’t work for Netflix, the ad agencies or the video game companies. My responsibility is to the artists that we represent.

When you say you don’t work for them, but you still try to get a bigger job for a project than just getting one song in, like consulting on the overall project?

We don’t work for the productions themselves. But there are plenty of tv shows for which we have supplied multiple tracks, because we have appropriate music and a good relationship with the music supervisor.
For example, there is a show called “Tokyo Vice”, with one season out, one coming soon; it takes place in Japan in the 90s and we have tons of music in it – but that’s because we represent plenty of music from Japan from that era. I still don’t work for the show. If someone wants to use a Beatles song, I can’t help them with that.

Why should you, right? Are these kinds of licensing negotiations often long, expensive and frustrating?

Yes, there are frustrating negotiations on both sides, frankly speaking. We are still dealing with fees, paperwork and legal issues and so on, but the difference is you can only be… there are only a few people in Europe and the States that act both as a buyer and a seller, that are supervisors and also represent a catalogue. It can be done ethically, but I think there is the danger of self-dealing, or at least the appearance of it, if you are paid to be the supervisor of projects and you also have music you represent in the projects, then you risk the grey area of essentially paying yourself.
If I were ever to work as a supervisor for a project – which is to say, acting as a buyer and not a seller – I would put in place a very specific set of rules and guidelines for myself to make sure to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

I like that. But let me also come back to the terms “buyer” and “seller”. North-Americans have in general a tendency to use a more business sounding terminology while in Europe we try to make the wording more softly creative sounding, like “I work with a nice collective of artists”…
You know what I mean?

Absolutely. I only say this: I am a music lover like you. And this is absolutely a creative job, my job is to find the right music that helps to tell the story of the show or ad, I approach it from a creative standpoint. So when I use phrases like buyer and seller, it is not because it is a harsh business, it is to clarify what our role is in the process. Because a lot of people are fuzzy about it. It is to demonstrate whom my loyalty is to – I work with the creatives, I work with the artists. It is just an attempt to show which side of the table I am sitting at when I work on these things.

Mentioning that it is all about the music. Are you constantly listening to new music?

Sure. Absolutely. All day, every day. We spend a lot of time listening to our own music; that does not come from ego, it is just that if we receive a request for music, we have to audition our own tracks to see what fits:
– Is the tempo right?
– Is the mood right?
– Do the lyrics fit?
– Is it too fast?, too slow?, too happy? Too sad?

We have our roster organized in such a way. You have to know your music very well. If we get a request, we need to make a playlist – and we need to know our potential very well. We want to make sure we send the songs that make the most sense musically.
That’s why I just spent five weeks in Europe and went to five music conferences in a row listening to music. I went out to see bands every single night. If you don’t love music, if you don’t love new music, if you don’t love a variety of different styles and genres of music, it is not the right job for you. It is all about the music at the end.

“Monkey Man” (one of the projects Dan Koplowitz contributed music with his agency Friendly Fire Licensing)

You do not just travel to the let’s say more standard music industry countries of the music industry like UK, Sweden, Germany, you travel pretty much to all the countries there, from South Korea to Japan to Finland or …

Listen, we represent American and British music as well, there is incredible music here too, but I think it is sometimes a little arrogant of people in the States to think that we have all the good music. There are hundreds of countries in the world and many people make good music. When I was running my label, the majority of our artists were from outside the United States, from the UK, Scandinavia… we had an Ethiopian-Finnish artist on the label, others came from Brazil, from Paraguay. The first band I ever signed, Asobi Seksu, was a Japanese-American shoegaze band, the songs went back and forth between Japanese and English.
Sync is something that is particularly international. If I were a booking agent and I found a band from Germany or Thailand, it might be hard to bring them to the United States if they were not ready. It is expensive! They have to be at the right point in their career. If they are not ready to tour – we say “export-ready” –, it makes no sense to get a bunch of visas, get in a van and tour around the world because no one knows who you are.
But we often pitch music from other countries. You can make music from your bedroom anywhere in the world, and if the music is good and you own your own rights, it’s possible to get a song in a tv show without leaving your house. It is an incredible opportunity for us as an internationally minded sync agency. We can pitch music from anywhere to anywhere. It does not mean that there are no challenges around language, time zones, different kinds of business cultures and approaches to how music and sync works. It is not always the easiest, but my goal is: good music is an international thing. If I find an artist that makes my ears happy, it makes no difference to me where they are from.

Is it important that you like the music yourself?

Of course everyone has their own personal favorites and the things they like to listen to in their free time. There is a set of music that I like personally, a set of music that I think works well for sync – and the best tracks of course are the ones in the middle, the songs that I like and believe in personally and that I think work for sync.
There are some things that I really love that aren’t too sync-friendly. That are too weird, too avant-garde, too… you know.
There are other things that are too commercial for my personal taste, but I can recognize that they are done well, and that there is value in them.
There are genres that… I am not the biggest metal or hard rock guy, it has never been my personal style. But I have at least some of that in my catalogue. I can still understand if it is good. The analogy I always use: “If you are a painter, yellow might not be your favorite color, but you still need to have some yellow paint available, in case you have to paint a banana”. Maybe I paint more in blue and green, but I want to have every color available.
We have a reputation of working with music that is a bit left of center, a bit unusual, a little quirky, it is international, but I also want to have some pop songs, I don’t shy away from pop. The goal is to have something for everything.

How do I have to imagine the results of such a travel trip to European festivals? You come home with 20 new songs, 40 new songs? Do you sign particular songs or do you try to represent artists in a bigger picture?

We are a small company, there are only three of us. We have to be very picky about what we take on, because we can’t take on too much. We are not a major label or publisher, we do not swallow up music just to have it. We care for the music we take on, it has to be something that we like, it has to be something that we think works for sync, we need to be able to have a positive relationship with the rights holders, and it has to be something that we do not already have in our catalogue. We are trying to find things that are new, unique. That means we have to say “no” to a lot of things, not because they aren’t good, but because we think we can ́t do right by them.

Rainbow Six Siege: Rengoku 2023” gameplay trailer (one of the projects Dan Koplowitz contributed music with his agency Friendly Fire Licensing)

You are not a publisher. But do you still have exclusive contracts with rights holders?

It depends. In some cases we are exclusive, in some not.
And yes, it is correct, we are not the publisher, we do not own any of the rights, we are middlemen. We work on a commission basis, we pitch for free and if things go through we get a commission. There are plenty of cases in which we represent publishers; often we do not work directly with a band, but rather with a label or a publishing catalogue. Sometimes they have their own in-house person and we are just helping them. For example, we are working with a German label that doesn’t have many connections in the US or the UK; we have strong relationships with hundreds of music supervisors, they come to us with the brief, they let us know about their projects, and they give a good, fair listen to what we send them. We don’t collect publishing royalties, we don’t usually set up co-writes, things that a good publisher should do. We concentrate on sync. That’s a full-time job.

A lot of labels also started publishing at some point of the negative development of record sales to compensate the minus. Not saying this is a good thing, because the idea to have both a label and a publisher of course brings benefits to the artists, but it leads me to the question, why you did not add publishing to the roster of your activities back then, when the label was still ongoing?

I am fascinated by publishing. And I like to think that I know a fair amount about publishing. Without naming names, there are plenty of sync companies that also act as publishers. That’s fine, I respect that, I will almost definitely start a publishing outlet at some point – I will not do it unless I think I can do it well and fairly to the artists we represent. There are some artists whom I could probably convince to sign a publishing contract with me tomorrow, but not until I have the team and infrastructure in place not only to get them syncs but also effectively collect royalties for them, help them with their careers, set up co-writes, do all these things that a good publisher should do. Until we can’t do that, I don’t want to obtain additional rights, to me it feels unethical.

You also concentrate on the field with the highest benefits right now.


“Slurpee Anything Flows: Colada Vibes | 7-Eleven” (one of the projects Dan Koplowitz contributed music with his agency Friendly Fire Licensing)

As you mentioned the relationship to more than hundred creatives in the sync biz. How does the working process look like?

We get a lot of briefs and searches, where supervisors write us about an ad, a tv show, a movie, maybe it is a specific scene, maybe it is a singular track, maybe it is about a series that is set in the 80s and they need a bunch of 80s music… They come and tell us about the project, what kind of music they need, usually they also tell us what the budget is – is it $1000, $10,000 or $100,000. And then we go and put together a playlist of music that we represent, like 5 songs, 10 songs….
We do it proactively also, with newsletters, themed playlists – themes from eras, songs from certain areas of the world, like an afrobeat playlist, or songs about change, a playlist of LGBT artists, whatever, a lot of it is submitting for specific projects and that comes from building relationships with supervisors; they come to us for a new seasons of a tv show or a car advertisement.

How often do you have the chance to see the specific scene the music is for, or the ad, or …?

It depends on the project. Sometimes there are NDAs involved (non disclosure agreements) either they can’t tell us what the project is about (especially with ads) or they tell us that we can’t tell anybody. Sometimes the scene isn’t shot yet, sometimes it is an ad and they share the storyboard or the idea of the ad with us.
There is a saying, and I am sure a music journalist said it: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” One of the challenges we have: we work with music supervisors who need to put into words what they are looking for. And those music supervisors are usually answerable to a director of a tv show or the director of the ad. Maybe they even don’t know what they want themselves. We get some searches that are very specific and some that are very vague, like: “We want a song that has energy and attitude and build.” That could be a million different songs. You need to learn to read between the lines. In the best cases you have a back and forth with the music supervisor. You send them a list with ten songs and they reply: “Thanks, those are good, but we need something a bit faster.” Or: “We need more indie rock!”, “the lyrics need to be about…”
Sometimes we get to look at the footage, other times we only see it when it comes out.

How often do you get emotional in the process of scoring or not scoring a sync?

It happens all the time. There are plenty of false alarms – they like it and write us back: “We are looking at two different songs and one of them is yours.” Then we send them the lyrics, or we give them the instrumental version, or the stems, and start talking to the label and rights holders, to make sure they give their approval … and then in the last moment they take another song.
Sometimes the whole project gets suddenly canceled. One thing that happens a lot is, they give us a reference track that may be by a well-known artist, they say we can’t afford that Beyonce track. So we get some similar tracks, maybe we make a couple of submissions, and in the end they just use the original track because they managed to clear it within their budget.
You learn not to get too emotional. I believe we have a great team, but still most of the projects we submit for we don’t get, and that’s okay, that’s part of it. There are hundreds of millions of songs in the world… if my song is not the best, you should not use it, you should only use it if it’s the best.

What does this mean for your partners? They get super excited from the first moment as they are not used it to like you. You know it is a pitch, but for them maybe it is already more than that?

Normally we have a talk with the label and/or the artists before we start pitching. We explain that it takes a while and that there is no guarantee of success. All we can do is to build up these relationships and try to make it happen. We can’t snap our fingers and magically get it done, believe me, we would do so if we could. We try to operate very transparently. We try not to get our partners excited before it is time for them to get excited. We always tell them to not open the champagne yet, “don’t go out and spend money”, “don’t buy the car!”.
We need to make the judgement call when to get the people involved and their hopes up – but at the same time they need to be part of the process, especially so we can act quickly if and when the formal request comes in.
There is a lot of hurrying and waiting in sync. Often you have to wait, and then you need to act quickly.

Two things connected to numbers I am interested in.
You mentioned Beyonce and the expensive tracks and you also mentioned the international roster.
Are the sync rates following the status of the artists in the music business? Or does sync have its own rules and a nerdy Turkish psychedelic track can get the same fee as a song by a hip UK band?

It just depends. There are so many factors in play. Of course we try to negotiate as smartly as possible, to get as good of a price as possible without being too greedy.
There are definitely places that look at non-western music as less valuable – and we push back on that really strongly, because music is music, each genre deserves to get paid the same. Of course a well-known artist will usually get more than an unknown artist, that makes sense; of course a big project pays more than a small one, or a big international movie pays more than a small indie production; territories have different prices, like ads in France usually pay a bit more than ads in Germany, and an ad in Germany will pay more than an ad in Brazil.
We don’t have a pricing “menu”, though. It is always a conversation with the artists and the rights holders on one side, and the production on the other side: what is a fair and reasonable price that everyone feels happy with? No one should feel ripped-off, no one should feel over-charged – it is a relationship, we want to work with these people again and again.
But yes, it is important to me to make a fair amount of money for the artists, I want to see them paid fairly for their work.

Talking about the ongoing character of your relationship with sync people, does this mean the negotiation processes got shorter over time as you get to know each other better?There are some people who are like: you say 99 and they say 1, you say 98 and they say 2 – until you get to 50. I like working with people who are transparent and honest, people who do not play games with me.
There is nothing wrong with negotiating, it does not make you a bad person, but the important thing we need to remember: we usually work with music supervisors that have to answer to someone higher, they give us a budget, but it is not “their” budget, they can’t keep the extra money. Music supervisors normally also want a good budget, so they can pay the artists good money, they want to be able to get the music they need.
Every once in a while I get a call from a music supervisor: “You know what? We are finishing up the season of the show and we actually have a little bit of extra money… and as you gave us a good deal on the song, we give you some more money for it.” Because if they don’t spend it, it is just going to go back to the studio and the budget is going to be lower for the next season of the show.
When that happens, it is amazing. And it builds up trust. Because when this supervisor comes back to me for the next project and says “this is the budget”, I believe them.
But yes, we also sometimes ask for too much or too little money, but generally speaking it’s about good relationships and fair fees, so everybody is happy.
I know what a song is worth for an ad, and I know when we are given a number that is bullshit.

“Introducing Fall 2023 | Victoria’s Secret” (one of the projects Dan Koplowitz contributed music with his agency Friendly Fire Licensing)

How many sync deals do you make a year in average, Dan?

It depends, obviously there are good and bad days; there has been a strike in Hollywood recently that is ending now, so everyone has been making fewer US tv and film deals.
We are a small company in general. We are not a music library, we do not do these tiny $100 deals, everything we do are negotiated deals. The goal is quality, not quantity.
We do hundreds of licenses a year, like one in average every day. Some days we do three, some weeks we do fewer.

That means: when you are on travels you constantly need to do your back office.

Yes. It is stressful, but I am lucky to have a wonderful team: Jacob Piontek and Allie Leon, they are great. That gives me the freedom to go out and meet new people.
But still, sometimes I am out at a showcase and a little emergency happens and I need to run back to the hotel in the middle of the (European) night as it is still the middle of the working day in California.

Do they invite you to these music festivals? Like do the export offices fly you in?

It is a mix. I feel very fortunate and grateful that I have been invited to some conferences in the past, sometimes I have to get there on my own, but they invite me sometimes. I give workshops, I do panels in addition. I spoke recently on panels in Bulgaria and Ireland for example; I also do speed meetings with managers and bands. Often I do not travel for this, I do it digitally in the office. But I love participating in these things in general, it’s fun, it´s an adventure – it is the best way to discover and engage with new music.

Dan, thanks so much for your time. Highly appreciated.

This article is brought to you by Kaput Mag as part of the EM GUIDE project – an initiative dedicated to empowering independent music magazines and strengthen the underground music scene in Europe. Read more about the project at

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.