Bald Freak Music: an interview with Ron Scalzo

“Bald Freak Music is the brainchild of Ron Scalzo, erstwhile radio employee, musician, & all-around good guy. Having shared many a respective horror story involving both independent & major labels with friends & other artists, Scalzo came to the conclusion that “just because a label can do something, doesn’t mean they will.” Unfortunately, his experiences as an artist with said labels have proven that point many times over.”
– from the Bald Freak Music website

Ron Scalzo1 – How and why did you come about starting Bald Freak Music?

My career as Q*Ball was on the upswing after releasing my first album, “Q*Ball In Space” – I was getting good press, playing some bigger shows, and I started poking around the Internet looking for independent labels interested in representing me. I had a few nibbles and was all ready to do business with a particular label that proceeded to sit on their ass once my second album was ready for mass consumption. Fortunately, I hadn’t signed any contracts at that point, so I politely told them to screw off and decided that if these clowns could call themselves a label, then so could I. After talking to my writing partner and friend, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, who had experienced similar issues with industry folk, I made it official and Bald Freak was born to release Q*Ball & Bumblefoot’s albums and merch. I just felt that I was capable and intelligent enough to represent the material properly on my own and this was the best way to get that done. I have trust issues and industry scars!

2 – When you started Bald Freak Music, were there any labels that you could say were a reference/inspiration for your efforts?

Ipecac Recordings was definitely an inspiration in terms of ideology – the fact that Mike Patton could start his own label to release a variety of different projects that he was involved in, and control his own destiny, was an awesome concept. I know that Mr. Bungle had a lot of problems with Warner Bros. as far as creative control and how the band should be represented, and I’m guessing that left a bad taste in his mouth. And the fact that it was all so anti-establishment – I mean, the label logo is essentially a cartoon baby head vomiting and one of the first releases was a bunch of special ed kids singing – not the sort of thing that screams “commercial success.” That sort of middle finger to the corporate industry mentality was right up my alley.

3 – Almost mandatory question, how did the name “Bald Freak Music” come about?

I’ve been putting on horror movie marathons for my friends every October for many, many years, and to make it more theatrical, I would give everyone horror-themed nicknames in my email invitations. Somewhere along the way, I was dubbed ‘The Bald Freak’. I started losing my hair when I was 18, it was pretty traumatic for me, and I tried to spin it into something positive. Obviously, Q*Ball, my electronic alter ego, was my first attempt to turn that around. When it was time to form a publishing company for Q*Ball through ASCAP, I chose ‘Bald Freak Music’. The money I had made from licensing royalties through that publishing company allowed me to start the label, so it seemed only fitting to name the label the same.

4 – Since the inception of Bald Freak Music, are there any events in the history of the label that you’d consider as particularly relevant, from difficulties and setbacks to successes?

To me, each band is a stock. You play the market, decide how much you want to invest in each band both financially and time-wise, and roll the dice. For the first four years, Bald Freak was essentially me doing everything myself – spending the money, mailing the CDs, doing the promo – so I had to be extremely selective about who I signed. One of the first bands I signed was a Jersey-based pirate metal band called Swashbuckle, who are now on Nuclear Blast. That was a big stock for me – financially and time-wise, and I think it spoke volumes about the type of acts I wanted to work with. Those guys were great musicians who found their own niche and exploited the whole pirate thing to the max – they just didn’t give a fuck what anyone else thought. I believed in the music and the irreverence and I’d like to think that the time and money put into that band got them the interest they deserved at the next level. I’m proud of that.

Hiring some dudes to work for me late last year was certainly a big deal – a sign of growth and expansion for a small label during a time when other labels are boarding up their doors. And certainly the opportunity to work with musical virtuosos like Ron Thal (in Q*Ball) and Chris Pennie (in Return To Earth) is something to hang my hat on.

5 – So far what would you consider as special highlights (or successful) releases and artists in the history of Bald Freak Music?

My first two Q*Ball albums – “Q*Ball In Space” and “Fortune Favors The Bald” – were highlights for me simply because they laid the foundation for getting the label started. Swashbuckle’s “Crewed By The Damned” did fairly well and continues to sell thanks to them touring their asses off over the past few years. Everything Bumblefoot releases is a highlight – his “Abnormal” album was a solid seller and almost drove me to the point of insanity as far as shipping it out to his rabid fans. And my Return To Earth album “Automata” was picked up by Metal Blade and has gotten some rave reviews. Lots of people cite it as the best thing I’ve ever been a part of, and I appreciate the kudos. It’s nice to be recognized.

6 – Are there any releases in particular that you would recommend as good ‘introductory material’ to the Bald Freak Music label?

All the aforementioned would qualify. There’s an eclectic quality to our catalog, and that’s what I’ve strived for – the major theme for me is ‘interesting’, not a particular genre. Return To Earth is progressive hard rock/metal; Q*Ball is quirky electronica that has its serious side; Bumblefoot is for the guitar geeks. If you can dig any of those acts, you’re more than likely to enjoy most of what us Freaks have to offer.

7 – Looking back, do you have any regrets with the label? If you could go back and change something, what would it be?

I can’t afford to have regrets. Every band, every move is an experiment. Some experiments go awry. The business is in the shitter, none of that is my fault. I’m still very conservative and cautious about working with third party companies. The relationships I have with my acts are fairly unique – most of those guys are my friends or are playing in my own bands. All my deals are extremely artist-friendly – even after five years, I feel that I have as much to prove to my bands as they have to prove to me. I’m an artist, the last thing I’m gonna do is try to take advantage of my peers. We should all succeed or fail together, and give it our best effort.

8 – An obvious question, but what is Bald Freak Music’s ‘relationship’ with the Internet? From promotion tool and digital sales to file sharing and piracy, how has it affected you?

Bald Freak is the Internet’s filthy whore. All our stuff is up on the torrents – what can you do? It’s a different world – songs have become promotional tools rather than sales commodities. We’re on Facebook, iTunes, CD Baby, Twitter, blah blah blah. We blog. We put out digital-only releases. Like most everyone else, I’m still trying to figure out the most successful way to monetize my bands – radio play is still not easy to come by, licensing is more difficult because of all the third party reps that have popped up over the past five years, and the fact that the majors are playing the same game that the indies are now. I think the Internet has made promoting your music real easy, just as long as you’re tech savvy, but at the same time, it’s created this huge wasteland where you’re competing for the attention of the average fan with 9 billion other things, and it’s all way too accessible. The movie biz, television, radio, our industry have all been adversely affected – it’s like an atom bomb landed in our laps and we’re still trying to figure out how to rebuild our mass media society.

9 – Slightly related to the previous question, how do you see the concept of ‘netlabels’ and, as a label head, what is your perspective as to the future and evolution of physical media (CDs, vinyl, etc.)?

I’m scared, to be honest. I wouldn’t call this an ‘evolution’, I’d call it a ‘de-evolution’. CDs are dead, vinyl is still cool for collectors and audiophiles, but that’s it. Record stores are mostly graveyards. I think the ‘old model’ of promotion was mainly smoke and mirrors – how we sell, how we promote, how we establish relationships with our fans. But we couldn’t truly quantify it before the Internet, so it was easier to overvalue it. Now everything is filtered thru the ‘net – tweeting and status updates and e-mail newsletters – is anyone really getting the message what with so many messages being force fed to us? And now you can quantify everything – click-thrus, hits, Facebook friends. If you’re a teenager today, your world is on a four-inch mobile phone screen. The whole concept of personal relationships, storytelling, the live performance – the intimacy of music – has been lost on the next generation. It’s madness, but you roll with the punches.

10 – Perspectives for the future: what lies in the horizon for Bald Freak Music? Can you share some long-term goals and where would you like to see the label heading to?

I’m married to the ‘big fish in a small pond’ concept. I can’t compete with the majors nor do I want to. I am anti-establishment. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel. I’m a control freak. I like my pond – it’s an honest pond, it’s not polluted, it’s nicely decorated. I defy ‘the machine’ that cranks out this mediocre hip-hop, the boy bands, overproduced female-fronted pop, reality television. I just want to hire about half a dozen people that I truly trust and admire and continue to saturate the market with my bands in any way possible while freeing myself up to continue to make music, write, and get on stage and perform. I want to put an animated show together, a comic book, I want to score a movie, I want to keep making music with people who blow me away. I want to remain small, put whatever money I make in a shoebox under my bed, and have fun. I see the label heading to the Caribbean, where you’ll find me sipping a pina colada, smoking a blunt, and listening to Bumblefoot’s ninth studio album in between short tours with the other bands I’m participating in.

Musically speaking, I’m putting out a new Q*Ball song out digitally every month since this past July, and that’s been fruitful and fun, and I’m already working on new Return To Earth tracks with the other guys for our third album. Also have a fun electro-hip-hop project called Hooper that I’m working on that I’m pretty stoked about.

11 – What other labels/artists would you recommend at the moment and why?

I appreciate any band that’s going it on their own and succeeding. Metal Blade is run by a small group of hardworking, passionate folks, and I certainly respect that. I like what Hydra Head is doing, Merge, Fueled By Ramen, Prosthetic.

I’m pumped about some new bands that we’re bringing to Bald Freak, starting with a NYC band called The Head Set, definitely the most commercially viable act I’ve worked with to date. I’m determined and excited to get these guys some exposure on the radio and elsewhere. Some guys who work for the label have some cool bands that I’m always happy to plug – Dead Empires, stoner sludge from upstate NY, and Last Days of Empire, some cool emo-hard rock featuring RTE’s new bass player, Mike Depko.

12 – Thank you for your time, do you have any final comments?

I’ve said way too much already hahaha! Thanks for letting me ramble and thanks for helping to spread the Bald Freak virus. You guys at CB have always waved the Q*Ball flag and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. Keep it comin’!

Relevant links

Bald Freak Music
Bald Freak Music @ Facebook
Bald Freak Music @ Blogspot
Bald Freak Music @ MySpace

— interview by Miguel de Sousa & Kate Turgoose (December 2010)