Dominique Zgarka Forges Ahead With ILS

Nick Krewen's picture

If you're looking for the new distributor homes of such notable heritage artists as Gino Vannelli, Lee Aaron, Fred Eaglesmith, Brian McKnight, Take 6, Heather Nova and David Clayton-Thomas, the search ends with Dominique Zgarka and his Independent Label Services Inc.

Within the past three years, the veteran entrepreneur and ex-president of the KOCH Entertainment Group of Companies, KOCH Canada and eOne Canada has quietly expanded the domain of his media distribution and marketing service to include 57 labels and bases in Toronto, Connecticut and London, England.

And he's not done yet.

"We feel very comfortable that by the end of 2017 we''ll be at 200 labels, be it artist-owned labels or full-fledged labels," Zgarka recently told FYIMusicNews.

Zgarka, who helped orchestrate the sale of Koch Entertainment to eOne back in 2005 and stayed aboard during the transition, says his latest venture began when then-Universal Music Canada president and CEO Randy Lennox approached him to start his distribution network for labels and artists.

"We initially made a deal with Randy for Canada, for exclusive distribution as our sub-distributor," Zgarka recalls. "We realized very, very quickly that only being a distributor for Canada is very hard, because the competition is fierce. You had companies like Sony/Red and Warner/A.D.A with North American and worldwide deals. I knew I had to expand ILS into a worldwide situation. At that time, the president of Universal/Caroline in the U.S. was Dominic Pandiscia. I made a deal with him for the U.S., and then within a couple months made a deal with Keith Sweeney, (International Head of Label Relations) of Universal/Caroline for Europe, Asia and Latin America. Within six months of starting the business, I became a worldwide distributor, and 99% of my deals are worldwide."

Later, Zgarka formed a partnership with Sono Recording Group head Claude Villani, retaining the ILS Group role as head of distribution while label owner Villani remains head of A&R, and they are flexible enough to serve multiple purposes on a case-by-case basis, and have agreements in place with Universal Music Group, EMI Music Europe and Caroline EMI/USA.

"Number one, it's distribution," Zgarka explains. "But what people love about what we do, and through me and my staff's experience, is that we really know social media and press and publicity, we know who to hire for a reasonable cost and then we'll do the best job possible. It's certainly case-by-case - either a label or an artist comes to us and says, 'Ok, this is our plan, this is our touring, this is the fans that we have - can you draw up a marketing plan for us?' We'll say, in England, you should hire such-and-such, in Germany you should hire such-and-such," and in Canada Eric Alper (Alper was recently retained as ISL's Director Of Media Relations), in the U.S., maybe you hire Buzzy if you're metal or Surfer PR. 

"We really know how to push our artists and our labels to get the best service possible for the most affordable price. It's the wild, wild west out there, between PR and radio and social media, everybody's got their hand out."

The ILS Group's current project is the multi-formated release of An Evening With Brian McKnight on Blu-ray, DVD, CD, digital download and streaming, due September 23, and Zgarka reveals that despite consumer preference trending towards digital avenues, his company is still doing quite well in the physical world.

"Actually, our physical sales remain at 70% of our volume," he notes.  "And that's because Germany is mainly physical. Japan is mainly physical. In the U.S., we have great success with Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy. We know the physical world. We know what to bring, being in CD format, DVD format or Blu-ray format, so physical - touch wood - is still 70% of our business.  On Brian McKnight, I've shipped 26,000 physical copies in the U.S. alone. For a first week ship-out, I'm pretty impressed for a greatest hits with three new tracks.

"But there's no doubt that streaming is the future," he adds.

Zgarka says that ILS is just as entrenched in the digital world as it is in the physical.

"We know how to maximize exposure of the artist, but even more importantly, we also know how to maximize placement," he explains. "We used to call it, in the physical world, front-rack placement - at Wal-Mart, at HMV, etc., . Well, there's no difference in the digital world: you have to have a story. And we are really, really good at creating a story. We're very, very good at placement at Spotify, at Apple, and all the players in the game. We get great placement and we see the difference. It's incredible."

Zgarka said ILS has recently signed David Clayton-Thomas, Fred Eaglesmith, Lee Aaron and Slaves On Dope to direct deals, and also includes such heritage or high profile artists as Heather Nova, her brother Mishka and ex-Walking Dead actress Emily Kinney as clients. 

"When we do direct deals, they're mainly heritage acts," he admits. "These artists are people who have an incredible history, so we are capitalizing on their track record."

As for new artists like former Dears guitarist Krief?

"We don't shy away from new artists, but we wouldn't do a direct deal with a new artist," Zgarka explains. "That's not our business model. But if one of our distributed labels has a new artist, we'll walk them through the process, help them as much as possible. But we all know, it's all about touring and social media. If they don't have the numbers, the competition is fierce."

Among the labels ILS Group has pacted with are Cordova Bay, Vancouver-based Dismatic and the Paquin Entertainment Group, and Zgarka says the company revels in its diversity, be it metal, folk or reggae.

"The musical style doesn't matter to us. What really matters is the professionalism of the people we're dealing with - the label, the artist or the manager."

As for Zgarka, the future music trend he's most excited about for ILS?

"EDM," he replies. "Electronic dance music is just ridiculous - for lack of a better word. We signed an artist called Dada Life from Universal Sweden. The cheques I give them every month would blow your mind. And it's all streaming.

"The thing with the EDM world is that these guys tour constantly and every week or second week they have a new single.  They're not album-oriented, they're song-oriented, and social media - they've got it down to a science. So we love EDM."