The Montreal-born maverick music industry executive isn’t one to bang his gong, but his CV is better than impressive, his knowledge of who the real players are on the world stage is hard-won, and his knack for sniffing out a hit is platinum- plated.
See him at a convention and he plays the shadows, but his knowledge of who pays and who spades manure is as good as it gets—and the best part about him is he’s mostly done it as an entrepreneur championing long-shots and independently minded artists.
Zgarka was majoring in computer science and medicine when the disco boom started to simmer in the early ‘70s. To finance his majors, he started the Canadian Record Pool with a hot Montreal disco DJ by the name of George Cucuzella. The two were supplying trend-lining dance mixes to discotheques across Quebec and producing a torrent of remixes by an exponentially growing list of artists that shifted from bubbling-under status to certified hitmakers on the American dance charts.
For a time, they were magic, and it led to the creation of the import/export firm Downstairs Records that also championed its own artists.
Cucuzella went on to create Unidisc, a super-sized company that has quietly bought up a vast warehouse of catalogues from failed record labels on both sides of the border. Like Zgarka, he has avoided the limelight. Zgarka went on to join Trans Canada Records, a giant in its day, heading up its import/export division. His ability to spot trends and future hits caught the attention of CBS (now Sony Music), and he became label head of the company’s nascent disco and black music division.
He moved from there, give or take a few detours, and created Rio Records, had some more hits, then Electric Distribution, World Music Sales, to finally heading up Koch Entertainment Group in Canada for 14 years. When that company evolved through a tangled business evolution into Entertainment One, he was retained as Sr. VP, Product Development, in North America for four years.
In 2013, he set up his own shop, again, with the Independent Label Services company (ILS) that merged with American firm Sono Records Group (SRG) two years ago. The idea was to create powerhouse music marketing company with an international reach that could offer an a la carte menu of services to labels and independent artists on a global scale.
Sono had its own studios in LA, a catalogue and Zgarka’s Rolodex of contacts in all corners of the world made for an attractive marriage.
And then Universal Music Group’s Capitol Records division in the US came knocking on their door seeking an arrangement that could offer both sides a win-win situation.
“The idea was simple. Capitol wanted to have a team that could take some of the workloads of their back, where we could provide expertise in digital distribution on a global scale, and scale up on physical sales. We can work directly with the artists, tailor a campaign to suit their budget, and its worked incredibly well.”
It worked so well that that the company's deal has been expanded to working with Universal Music Group’s family of labels.
With its own staff and offices in Toronto, LA and Connecticut, they have built an expertise in R&B, Dance, Heavy Metal and Inspirational/Gospel genres, and attracted a growing list of blue-chip Canadian acts seeking international exploitation without contractual ties to a major label. Among these are Gino Vannelli, Randy Bachman, Lee Aaron, and Fred Eaglesmith.
Global distribution for physical releases is channelled through Caroline Distribution, and its own in-house team has built direct relationships with global platforms such as YouTube, Vevo and Spotify.
The relationships they have built are strong, Zgarka tells me. “We’ve never lost a label or an artist because we cut fair deals, and we pay promptly. We’re not making billions, but each year we are showing incremental growth.”
For Zgarka, the proof of the pudding in the company’s growth is seeing small but steadily increasing payouts from countries such as Russia and China, “where traditionally one sees nothing.”
Keeping their eye on the ball, and working nimbly, IDLG is making its mark on the global stage with a small team, effective use of budgets, and vast knowledge of who pays and who is just a player.