Posting growth in a struggling industry: Jaddan Comerford, UNIFIED

As the owner of a global music management firm, Jaddan Comerford reveals how he’s fighting back against an industry decline to keep his business growing.

Up until the early 2000s, the music business was seen as a highly lucrative and profitable industry, with fame and glamour to boot. Then comes the likes of Napster, YouTube and iTunes, and the entire industry is brought to its knees and struggles to maintain revenues as consumers flock to these new distribution channels.

Having started his business UNIFIED at the age of just 17 while still living in the family home, Jaddan Comerford wasn’t keen to let his life’s work go down the drain.

His efforts and persistence have paid off, with UNIFIED – which offers management, publishing, touring and merchandising to its musician clients – back in the black, posting turnover of $7 million in 2016.

Jaddan speaks with My Business about how he survived the technology revolution and GFC that wiped out many of his competitors, and why naivety is not the worst trait a business owner can have.

“I started in 2001 when Napster was at its height and CD burners were all the rage. iTunes didn’t even start until 2005 in Australia, so it was a really tough time to make money selling music.”

What was the inspiration behind starting your business, particularly at such a young age?Jaddan Comerford, UNIFIED

I just really loved music and I had a passion for building something, so business made sense.

As far as being young, it’s hard to say, but I guess I was just keen to get started. I was super naive about how it worked, which I think worked in my favour, as I started not really knowing the challenges ahead, and I persisted.

How did you operate the business in its early days?

It was just me working out of my bedroom at my parents’ house in the suburbs of Melbourne. I literally started the company with $400 in 2001, which I’d saved from a summer job, and just reinvested everything I made. But very often I relied on maxing out credit cards!

I hired my first staff member in 2006, his name is Luke Logemann and he still works at the company and was recently promoted to the title of chief creative officer.

How did you establish credibility against larger, more established players?

I guess we just do what we do. Everyone has a different approach, but mine has always been about building a great team who are passionate. I think that really comes through in our work, as everyone is inspired to really deliver for our clients.

What have been the crucial things that have enabled the business to not only survive, but to grow?

Once again, the team and then of course, our amazing clients. Without those two, we are nothing.

We have an amazing structure that really supports me as the CEO and allows for the company to grow. I have a CCO and a COO, and then we have four general managers who look after the four main divisions of the company.

This structure is incredible, as it allows for autonomy and allows me to really look big picture while I know the GMs are getting it done.

What are the biggest barriers to growth for your business?

Cash flow is always a challenge, as you’re scaling a business independently. But it’s also fun as it allows you to grow organically and make the right decisions.

The other challenge is international, but that’s also a huge opportunity. We are currently investing heavily in North America with our office in LA and also Europe with our London office. Running a 24-hour company can be taxing, but it’s also extremely rewarding.

The other major barrier until recently for our record label was how people were consuming music. I started in 2001 when Napster was at its height and CD burners were all the rage. iTunes didn’t even start until 2005 in Australia, so it was a really tough time to make money selling music.

But now that the world is global through streaming (i.e. Spotify, Apple, Google, etc) the business is growing again for the first time in a long time. This means we can now monetise our artists’ music on a global level.

Who is the highest profile person/act you have worked with?

I think our most well-known client is Vance Joy. We have managed him for over five years, and together we’ve had an incredible journey from playing in cafes in Melbourne to selling out venues around the world.

A highlight would have been his last US tour where he sold 7,500 tickets to his own headline show in Denver, Colorado. It’s a lot easier to sell tickets in places like New York and LA (where he still sells a lot of tickets), but when that show happened, that was one of those moments where we knew he was really breaking through in America.

How do you deal with difficult clients?

Communication. That’s key. And on top of that, setting goals is how we do it. If we are all on the same page with what we are trying to achieve, then we can work through anything.

If there’s no plan, then we are just making it up and that’s when people can get unsettled.

UNIFIED team outside their warehouseHow do you ensure the business has sufficient cash flow through quieter periods of the year?

Good question. We forecast and we plan. If we need money, I either reinvest or we go to the bank.

If there was one thing you would do differently, what would it be and why?

I’m pretty happy with what we’re doing, but as with most entrepreneurs, I’m impatient. I want everything to happen now.

But as I’ve already said, goals changed this for me. If you map out where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, you can curb your impatience by knowing there’s a plan for where you want to get to.

Fast facts: UNIFIED

Established: 2001
Industry: Music management and promotion
Location: Headquartered in Melbourne; offices in Sydney, London and Los Angeles
Employees: 32
Turnover: $7 million

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