From the moment Justin Tranter took the stage as the lead singer of ‘00s rock band Semi Precious Weapons in six-inch heels and a full face of makeup, they had their eye on the bigger picture. “My goal was always to be on the cover of Forbes, not the cover of Rolling Stone,” says Tranter, “and I am just getting started.”
As the founder and CEO of Facet Records and Publishing, Tranter is revolutionizing the music industry from within and racking up massive hits in the process. Having been dropped from four record deals before breaking through as one of music’s most sought-after songwriters, Tranter has, in their own words, “seen it all.” The hitmaker’s goal is simply to do it better.
“I’m not perfect, but I do have a very different perspective than a lot of executives do,” they say. “I’m still a writer, I’m still a creator, so I’m able to understand the business challenges, the emotional challenges, and the schedule challenges.”
Since opening its doors in 2019, Facet has steadily built a diverse roster of artists, songwriters, and producers with one benchmark: “icons only.” Their definition of “an icon” includes rule-breakers, and game-changers — essentially anyone unafraid to be their true, authentic self. “I like people who make bold songs and who make bold choices,” declares Tranter.
“On the publishing side, Brandon Colbein writes really huge, dramatic, sweeping melodies that aren’t necessarily trendy,” they explain. “On the label side, Jake Wesley Rogers is so connected emotionally, but also not afraid to be over the top.” Tranter also lists producer Eren Cannata, with his mastery of horns, strings-maestro Dan Crean, and Broadway alum Brittany Campbell as other signings that reflect Facet’s ethos. “’Icons only’ is definitely a very bold mission statement, but I’m standing by it!”
And breaking new ground has worked for Tranter. “Half the time people thought I was crazy,” they say, “but I ended up here.” And by here, Tranter means at the very pinnacle of the music industry. With credits on mega-successful albums such as Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia,” Lady Gaga’s “Chromatica,” and Selena Gomez’s “Rare,” they have amassed more than 40 billion streams and earned Grammy and Golden Globe nominations in addition to winning songwriter of the year at the BMI Pop Awards twice in a row.
While songwriting is still a priority (Tranter is currently working with Italian rockers Måneskin), they remain “very, very, very hands-on” at Facet, while delegating to a team that includes Director of Facet Publishing Mark Taylor, President of Facet Records Kate LaBrel, Head of Operations Jimmy Knehans, Facet House Manager Amber Jones, and Coordinator Shannon Corsi. Together, they have made the indie a major player in a short period of time.
In April, Facet had hits at five different radio formats. In May, Imagine Dragons’ “Enemy,” which was co-written by Tranter, and Dove Cameron’s “Boyfriend” — co-penned by Facet’s Skyler Stonestreet — cracked the top five on Top 40 radio. “To have two songs in the top five, it just feels like anything’s possible,” Tranter says. “The vision is to keep breaking writers and keep having hits, but also make sure writers can pay their rent when they’re working on them.”
Tranter is addressing the latter concern by branching into film and TV including Netflix’s upcoming “Purple Hearts” and Paramount+’s highly anticipated “Grease” prequel series “Rise of the Pink Ladies.” “Not only do I love it and find it inspiring to put my brain somewhere else besides aiming for hits, it’s guaranteed sync money,” Tranter says. “Our writers are going to get paid for every song. Which does not exist in pop music.”
“I was writing at least 300 songs a year and four of those songs would make me money,” they continue. “I’ve had album cuts on the biggest albums of the year, but because the songs weren’t singles, they maybe made me $5,000. I can survive that, but new writers cannot.” Facet’s new revenue stream offers unheard-of security in the industry. “It’s changed their lives,” Tranter says. “Those sync fees are no fucking joke.”
Another way that Facet is changing the game from within is by amplifying voices that are not usually heard. As a board member of GLAAD, Tranter takes particular pride in signing queer artists. “A lot of the people that I’ve signed on the publishing and label side are queer,” they say. “They’re great and they don’t deserve to be the exception. There should be many queer people thriving and shining.”
Tranter will continue their shine, both as an executive and artist, by nurturing icons and writing hits for pop’s elite. They are even working on a theatrical project. “I will be singing on it, but I have no desire to compete in the pop or alternative space anymore,” Tranter emphasizes. “That is a young person’s game and I am proudly not a young person.” After all, building an empire takes a lot of time, determination, and energy.