Companies tend to measure success in years and quarters. UNIFIED Music Group is six years in (and counting) and the Australian indie continues to impress. The multi-tiered music firm is growing and evolving and it’s coming off a spectacular run of activity, crammed into a single week.
In a seven-day frame this month its CEO Jaddan Comerford helped launch the Your Choice campaign, the company relocated to new, bigger premises and relaunched its business and brand. Vance Joy, one of Australia’s brightest young artists and a client of the Melbourne-based enterprise, returned to the spotlight with “Lay It On Me,” his first new music since his 2014’s debut album Dream Your Life Away, which has sold 1.7 million copies worldwide. And to top it all off, the firm earned its first nomination for best independent label at next week’s AIR Awards in Adelaide.
Comerford, though, isn’t celebrating just yet. There’s just too much going on. The executive is on a rare return to home soil. After three years in Manhattan, Comerford relocated to Los Angeles earlier this year where he’s pushing on with his big-picture plans.
“We want to keep growing the footprint for the business globally, because whether we like it or not we’re a global business now,” he tells Billboard. “So, on our label side if we put out a record it’s going to reach every corner of the globe. If we manage an artist we’re responsible for their careers worldwide. I’m in the process of replicating what we’ve built in Australia on a global level. It’s about building the teams, finding the right leaders in the different territories who will buy into our values and our mission statement and work together to build the company. I always want to be at the coalface. And with me being in America on the frontline, it’s crucial."
And how vast will this empire grow? “It depends on how long I live for, I guess,” Comerford quips. Time, however, is something he has on his side. He’s only 33 years old and last year became the youngest-ever keynote speaker at the annual Bigsound conference. His entrepreneurial instincts were obvious when the rest of us were playing with Pokemon cards and Star Wars figurines. At 10 years of age, he sold his clarinet and bought shares in National Australia Bank. At 17 he withdrew his shares and started a record label in his bedroom. Things have moved on since then.
UNIFIED Music Group launched as UNIFIED in 2011 with eight staff. The company now employs 35, with offices in Australia’s two biggest cities Melbourne and Sydney, London and now Los Angeles, and represents a diverse stable of artists including Amy Shark, Illy, In Hearts Wake, Nina Las Vegas, Northlane, The Amity Affliction, Violent Soho and, of course, Vance Joy.
Its label business went on to strike a distribution deal with Warner Music for Australia and New Zealand, and with Believe Digital for the rest of the world. Those two deals are in place until 2018. Last year, UNIFIED formed a new venture with Live Nation, which works with the Aussie business to procure tours in the heavy music space – metal, punk, hardcore. The result is UNIFY Presents, a partnership which has toured the likes of Bring Me The Horizon, Slipknot, A Day To Remember and Architects and rolled out a festival brand, UNIFY: A Heavy Music Gathering, which has erected the sold-out sign on all three occasions. The January 2018 edition will be announced next month.
Also, the indie group has relocated to a new office space in the inner city Melbourne suburb of Richmond, which sets-up the business for further growth. The new premises include an expanded warehouse downstairs for its expanding merch arm. In recent days, the company unveiled a string of staff promotions and reorganized the business into four pillars: Artist Management, Recorded Music (which operates four labels), Touring & Events and Merchandise. “I came out of a meeting in the boardroom with the four pillar heads and that was the moment of clarity as to why we did it,” explains Comerford. “As the CEO running the company which has over 35 people I can’t be across everything, so being able to empower people and give them autonomy to be leaders in this own right is what’s going to allow us to grow the business. It’s given us internally a tremendous amount of clarity. And it's allowed us to restructure in a way that allows us to scale even further."
For Comerford, the move to Venice made “complete sense for us,” he adds. “It’s quickly becoming the center of a lot of change in tech, and music, culture. It’s a really exciting place to be right now." Since his move to California in January, Comerford has made two hires. "Immediately it felt like I was surrounded by people I wanted to work with. L.A. has an entrepreneurial flair, people are really getting stuff done and it’s exciting."
There’s no time for putting the feet up on the table. The 6’5” exec is joined with more than a dozen colleagues at Byron Bay’s mid-winter Splendour in the Grass festival this weekend, where no less than 10 Unified artists are performing. Comerford will then fly to Munich next week with his ward Amy Shark, the Gold Coast singer-songwriter, to join her on a week-long promo trip across Europe. Next up, the U.S. and Canada with Vance Joy (including a set at Lollapalooza in Chicago) and back to L.A. He’s a perpetual motion machine who, since his relocation to the West Coast, has been back to Australia three times, to New York three times, and to Europe another three occasions.
“I always look forward, that’s how I prefer to do it. We’re always striving for perfection which is such a subjective statement, but I deliberately make that part of our goals. I’d rather focus on always improving rather than sitting back,” Comerford says. “I guess I don’t stop to smell the roses enough. There’s always something else to do.”