Jaddan Comerford: When you focus on culture and purpose, one plus one can equal a hundred
Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance.
Jaddan Comerford started his music business as a 17-year-old from the bedroom of his parents’ house, in one of the most tumultuous periods the music industry has ever seen; when illegal downloading service Napster and CD burning were just being introduced.
Having very few overheads to begin with, Jaddan credits his ability to build a business based solely on passion with minimal pressure as the reasons he was able to grow it into what it is today. Now he’s at the helm of UNIFIED, a music company that provides a varied range of services, including Artist Management, Recorded Music, Merchandise Services, Touring, and Events.
After spending three years in Manhattan managing Australian artist Vance Joy, Jaddan relocated to Los Angeles to commit to expanding his business. Describing UNIFIED as being a work in progress “probably forever”, it’s clear that his emphasis on company culture and vision have put in him a position of inevitable growth – the only way is up.
You entered the music industry at an especially difficult time. How did that impact the development of your business?
Because I didn't have an office or staff I wasn't having to try to deal with what other music companies were dealing with while trying to stay afloat. As things started to get better in the industry over the years I had already worked out how to make a business work at the worst possible time.
How did you know it was the right time to take UNIFIED to the next level?
UNIFIED was originally called Boomtown Records when it was just a record label. In 2011, we changed the name of the whole group to UNIFIED to bring a whole bunch of different companies under the one umbrella.
I followed my instincts and as things got bigger and a little more serious, we began to expand by bringing in teams of people in different areas of expertise; marketing, legal etc. Building my staff was the most important part of the growth of the business; it’s so important to invest in people that share the company vision so we can continue to grow.
UNIFIED is a company very rooted in culture and vision and it's more about playing to those strengths than doing one plus one equals two. I think that when you focus more on things like culture and purpose, that one plus one can equal a hundred if you get it right.
Have there been times throughout your journey where you wanted to pack it in?
Of course! I haven’t felt that way for a while, but I definitely experienced that back in the day. The moments when I get home from a show at 2 am and have a flight at 6 am, and wonder if it’s even worth going to bed? That’s hard. But I snap out of it pretty quickly when I realise how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing.
How would you describe the lifestyle of living in LA?
We made the choice to live in Venice Beach because it’s such a beautiful area, however probably not the most practical place to be in terms of business. Most of the people in our industry are based in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, so we do encounter a bit of traffic. I will say the stereotype in Venice is real; bikes and roller blades and a yoga studio on every block! I find LA really inspiring, even if there are so many clichés about it – people getting their big break and what not.
Is there a lot of that, people trying to catch a break?
Of course. I don't know if there's any other place in the world that would be seen as much of a magnet for people following a dream. I find it super inspiring because there are so many amazing people doing incredible things. It's such a global city. I think it’s similar to London in the way there's just so many people always coming through it. I've spent a lot of my time with people who live in LA but also spent a lot of my time with people who have been coming through from New York or Sydney or London or Berlin.
Did you move to LA for UNIFIED specifically?
My wife and I lived in New York for three years, primarily because of Vance Joy, the artist who we manage. At the end of his first album cycle our lease was up in New York and we were in two minds about what to do, because we knew that Vance was going go back into the studio and we didn't necessarily need to be in New York anymore, but we had this sort of feeling that we weren't quite done in America. That’s when we decided to move to LA and made the commitment to building our business. At the beginning of this year we hired our first employee in America and now we've got our fourth person starting in February. So now it's starting to take on a life of its own.
At what point did you feel like it was really starting to grow legs?
There have been all sorts of different growth phases for the company over the eight years I've done this. It's usually been linked to the success of either a particular artist or a time. On a global level, Vance Joy was a huge change for us that motivated us to move to America because we were very confident that it would be his largest market, which proved true.
What do you think is unique about the Australian music industry or Australian musicians?
There is an extremely supportive music industry in Australia with an incredible live music culture. We have great media like triple j and commercial radio that really supports Australian music.
I think when Australian artists go to America or Europe they hit the ground running. They might be coming in and playing their first gig at a two hundred capacity club in Hollywood, but they’ve been playing back home to thousands of people. Between a little bit of isolation and a lot of support from just the community Australian artists are so unique and able to take on the world.
What are your plans for UNIFIED going forward? Do you hope to grow it, or just maintain where it's at now?
The short answer is that I think the company is just going to continue to naturally grow. We're focused on trying to promote the best services we can and we will continue to find people that help us do that. I think it'll be a work in progress probably forever, but we have a great team and a great culture that’s growing every day.