The man who turned a clarinet into a $7 million business
Published on: | by Justin Ware
After selling his clarinet for $200, 10-year-old Jaddan Comerford became an investor, putting the money into the stock market – specifically, shares in the National Australia Bank. That decision would turn out to have a major impact on his life and 23 years later, Comerford is the founder and CEO of UNIFIED Music Group, one of Australia’s fastest growing, privately owned independent music bodies. Justin Ware reports.
UNIFIED is a music management company with offices in Melbourne, Sydney, London and Los Angeles. Its wide array of services has attracted a diversity of esteemed acts, including Vance Joy, Amy Shark, Violent Soho, Illy and The Amity Affliction.
The business has grown substantially from very humble beginnings and all began when Comerford purchased shares in the National Australia Bank.
“I had no idea what they [shares] were, my grandparents and parents where very insistent on me having them when I was growing up,” Comerford said of his introduction to the stock market.
“The idea was I learnt about how shares worked, and then I could save for a house deposit to achieve the Australian dream.”
However, it didn’t quite work out the way he imagined. Comerford’s passion for music took hold, and he started his own record label Boomtown Records out of his bedroom after finishing high school. With initial funds for the venture coming from sold shares and a summer job, he operated out of his home for several years, building influence and experience as he studied.
In 2004, the start-up had become a management service company in addition to functioning as a label. Comerford had amassed 10 clients and realised he didn’t have the space or resources to continue working from his bedroom.
He moved the company into an office in Richmond – a decision that would lead to the birth of UNIFIED.
“In 2011 I decided it was time to streamline things a little bit. My wife Rachel and I fully own the company, and we strongly believe that as a company it’s important to have a strong name,” he said. “At that point in time it was all a little disjointed. The label had evolved, but the name had not.
“When I was growing up I had a huge affinity for punk rock. Operation Ivy was one of my favourite bands. They had this song called ‘unity’, a track which was about people coming together through music. It’s pretty fitting that the name came to me from the music I grew up with.”
UNIFIED changed dramatically over its five years, going from five staff in 2013 to now 34 in 2017 – growth that Comerford puts down to diligent reinvestment and remaining on top of the market.
“It sounds simple, but we maintained our focus. The conventional industry is not what it was. We remained on top of the trends; streaming is at the forefront of the music revolution and has been for some time. That’s why we were able to turn over $7 million in revenue last year.
“We took the opportunities that presented themselves,” he said.
24 Hundred – UNIFIED’s merchandise arm
One such opportunity was ‘24 Hundred’, which opened in 2014.
The warehouse now dispatches over 10,000 orders a month from its Richmond warehouse and has grown into UNIFIED Merchandise Services.
“24 Hundred is a great example of the Australian dream at work. We had an intern named ‘Stevie’, and he happened to be pretty bored at the time. We had a heap of t-shirts lying around, and he kind of had an epiphany. He suggested we throw some of our artists’ logos on them and put them up for sale. I encouraged him to give it a crack,” Comerford said.
“I come in the next day and they were gone. All of them. It may be something that seems obvious now, but many fans really want to buy that kind of stuff.
“We’ve all seen how vinyl records are back in full swing and being bought up left, right and centre. It just happened by chance, but we identified that market and we filled a need for our client base.”
Making records – while breaking them
UNIFIED’s rapid ascension hasn’t gone unnoticed. Comerford was listed second in the Music Business Worldwide Young Executive Award, and placed seventh on the AMID Power 50 list in 2016. He was also the keynote speaker at BIGSOUND in 2016, becoming the youngest individual in history to receive the honour.
“I’ve been attending BIGSOUND for over 10 years, when they approached me… I was just like ‘No way! I’m not worthy. Why would anyone want to listen to me?’ Eventually a couple of people around me gave me a nudge, which I’m very thankful for.
“It was so consuming, in a good way. It felt like my wedding day. There was infinite champagne, it was a frantic setting.
“By the end it felt like I had run a marathon but the great thing was after I finished, I knew I could do something like that again.”
Perhaps the biggest milestone yet for Comerford will be the relaunch of Unified, which will take place on July 17. The exciting development will feature a refresh of the current UNIFIED group and angle the company towards international growth.
Comerford states the aim above all is to deliver upon his artists’ vision more than ever before – a process he finds immensely satisfying.
“If you are passionate about something, you can achieve great things. It’s just fortunate for me I decided guitar was way cooler than the clarinet! I’m doing what I love every day.”
To find out more about Unified, visit http://www.unifiedmusicgroup.com/