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Under the Radar
You don't know Daniel Holter, but you undoubtedly know his music, recorded in an unmarked Tosa building.

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

Have you had an experience where you’re watching TV and your music comes on unexpectedly?
It’s quite literally at the point now where, if I turn on the television, it’s rare that I don’t hear our work. I’ve been involved in about 6,000 pieces of music over the last 16 years. Our clients are virtually every television network, movie studio, production facility, a lot of post houses, a lot of multimedia producers. There are a few of our competitors that have been around for 20 to 25 years whose music is literally everywhere. And I’m definitely not at that level. But I’ve just now launched this company that is aiming to compete on that level. 

So tell me about that company, The License Lab. 
Last year, I sold the remainder of my interest in a catalog called Mixtape to Sony/ATV. And I went through some soul-searching. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do day to day if I wasn’t involved in the creation of music. I’m not going to sit on the beach. I’m not that guy. So out of that came this idea for The License Lab. I knew I didn’t want to do what most of the industry is still doing, which is producing albums in the sense that they put out 12, 15, 20 tracks that are related stylistically or by genre. I thought there was an opportunity to do something a little different where you could organize things according to how they’re used. We can do an “album” of news music, but it wouldn’t be all stereotypical news music. For fashion, instead of doing a project that’s all European house music called Euro Fashion 8 because we’ve done volumes 1 through 7, we could do a whole collection of music that’s great for fashion applications but is all over the map stylistically. 

Do you have a style that you lean toward personally?
I’m a huge electronic music fan. I’m a huge pop fan. I really, really, really love music. I don’t love opera. I wish I did because I think I’d be thought of as smarter. But I don’t love opera. 

Producing, are you all over the board as well?
Oh yeah. Except for opera.

Did you always know you wanted a career in music?
I knew I wanted a life in music. It didn’t matter if it was a career. I’d be doing the exact same thing now, on a different level maybe, but I would be making records, I’d be making songs, I’d be working with creative people. I’d almost quite literally sell my soul to do that. 

The music industry has clearly changed tremendously from a consumer’s standpoint. Has it changed dramatically in your world as well?
Oh, no question. I don’t think it’s a secret that this part of the music business has been more dirty bathwater than baby. There was a lot of, “You actually put your name on that?” Limp, uninspired, milquetoast, embarrassing music. I came into this business at the right time, where thankfully that had shifted. There’s a lot of people doing extraordinary work right now, evidenced by the fact that you’ve got major names, record labels and music stars putting their names on instrumental catalogs for marketing purposes.

So we’re sitting in Wauwatosa in an unmarked building. Literally, I don’t think people know you’re here. 
It’s absolutely by design. Nobody needs to find us.

Beyond physical location, does The License Lab have an impact on the community?
I really would like it to. It’s actually a huge part of what I hope is the next phase of my career. I’ve got a grand plan to open a nonprofit music education center along the lines of what Dave Eggers did for writing and tutoring with his 826 Valencia project in San Francisco. There’s an entire generation of kids who don’t have music education in school. I was a beneficiary of having been in band and jazz band through grade school and high school. So I’d like to honor that part of my past and honor the future of Milwaukee music in a very tangible way by offering free music education to kids who deserve it.

Would this all have been easier to base yourself in New York or L.A. and call it a day?
Being there would be a completely different set of challenges, and being in Milwaukee has challenges. I don’t know that it would be easier; it would be different. I feel grateful to be here. The marketing for the company is intentionally Midwestern, blue-collar, midcentury. We’re proud of being in Milwaukee.

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