In Rolling Stone‘s series At Work, we go behind the curtain with decision-makers across the fast-changing music business — exploring a range of responsibilities, burgeoning ideas, advice for industry newcomers, and more. Read earlier interviews here.
Katie Vinten studied film at New York University, never thinking she’d go into the music industry. After college, she took a job at EMI as CEO Jon Platt’s assistant — but she didn’t imagine she’d ever become an executive herself.
Yet in the last two years alone, Vinten — who became a standout A&R director at Warner Chappell after EMI — has co-founded Facet Records and Facet Publishing in partnership with Warner Music Group alongside songwriter Justin Tranter, as well as launching Black Diamond Management Company to manage and nurture songwriters directly. Through the three companies, Vinten works with the writers behind artists like Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, Hayley Kiyoko, and the Chainsmokers; she’s also been responsible for smash hits from Selena Gomez, Julia Michaels, and Justin Bieber.
“I like to define why somebody is choosing music as their career,” Vinten says. “I think people need to be self-aware about what they are good at, what they know, and why they are doing this.” Vinten spoke to Rolling Stone about her own career evolution from her Los Angeles home-turned-quarantine-office, where she juggles a tight schedule of kids, clients, and employees.
How do you approach work with a new artist or songwriter? How do you assess their style?
The potential in the music always speaks first to me — if it engages me to connect with the human being behind that music. But it also takes consistent chats with that person, and putting them in a room and seeing what the feedback is like from fellow writers. It’s not a try-out; it’s more like, “Do we fit? Do I have good ideas for you?” And vice versa.
I usually get a feeling, a gut instinct, a maternal instinct. There could be the most talented person in the world who is the Number One person on Spotify but personally, if they’re an asshole, I don’t want to work with them. I am looking for the diamonds in the rough.
How long does it take you to establish a relationship with a new artist or songwriter?
I like to define why somebody is choosing music as their career. If it’s something like money… Well, money to me is always just a byproduct of doing what you do, so if someone’s just financially interested in music or just wants fame, that is not of interest to me. It’s the rapport in any relationship that needs to feel right. You know it feels right when you have honest conversations. Sometimes it takes several hangs.
On the management side I can be a little more lenient because I don’t have a corporate partner — but on the publishing side, it’s so fast and competitive with other offers, and certain decisions need to be made in a timely way. You’re not always given the grace of time and the ability to try out some things. But I believe you also learn a lot from your mistakes, so if a signing ends up not being the best fit, I will have learned a lot and so will they.
Sometimes you’re like, “Wow, this talent is unreal, but I don’t know that they’re aware with how this really works. Are they willing to deal with the rejection we’ve all had to deal with? Do they have the mental fortitude?” If someone is talented and also makes you go, “Oh my God, this hustle is insane,” and they are also good people, then that’s when we can get them to the next level.
I think people need to be self-aware about what they are good at, what they know, and why they are doing this. That is key to me: really being aligned with your purpose.
Can you walk us through your typical day in quarantine?
Working from home, I’ve been trying to maintain a schedule because it keeps everyone else a little more sane, which in turn keeps me a little more sane. I’m up by 6 a.m. and my son and daughter are shortly behind. I make my coffee, breakfast, and then I go through what I feel I need to accomplish for all the different — no pun intended — facets of my work for the day. At 6:30 I hear “Mom…” and it’s time to dance it out with my kids, who are obsessed with music. My daughter has a little old-school boombox in her room and we put on a CD.
Usually around 8:30 or 9, I “punch out” of that job and punch into my music world: Facet Records, Facet Publishing, and Black Diamond Artist Management. We are scaling, even though we’re in quarantine — because we realized the wheels don’t stop. It’s just a different wheel.
Throughout the day I check in with my songwriters. I text to hear updates. I take a lunch break and my daughter takes a nap at 1 p.m., like clockwork, which is a nice little break for me. I usually go for a little jog on my Peloton Tread, and then after I shower I usually have another Zoom. If I don’t, I put aside the afternoon to catch up on pitches, music listening, emails. There’s ever-flowing communication.
At the end of last year, my father passed away of heart disease and two months later my daughter was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes at one year old. It instigated a lot of health stuff for me. So, during quarantine and the chaos of working from home, I was like, “I want to pay it forward and help other industry moms who have put their health and well-being on the back burner like I did for so long.” That’s been super rewarding. I help coach executives and songwriters who are also moms, and I felt that was super necessary. It’s about serving people and treating everyone like they are my son or daughter and I don’t take their career lightly.
And when do you wrap up the day?
I try my best around 5:30 to close the laptop and put the phone down for a second to do dinner, baths, and books with the kids. I have some quality time with my husband as well. Then I’m looking at the next day’s to-do plans and seeing who I need to check up on.
“I feel like I’ve learned some things from pure corporate life — for example, structurally, I can see where there needs to be organization for people to be productive and efficient. But what I’ve left behind are the constraints and limitations placed on people in their roles. I just don’t believe in that.”
You’ve worked in diverse roles across the music industry. How did your time at Warner and other major music companies shape your approach to your new businesses?
Facet is a joint ownership with Justin Tranter, and we’ve always had our own dynamic. I was formerly only a publisher and he was a songwriter — so now we’re co-owners and business partners, which is very different. I feel like I’ve learned some things from pure corporate life — for example, structurally, I can see where there needs to be organization for people to be productive and efficient. But what I’ve left behind are the constraints and limitations placed on people in their roles. I just don’t believe in that.
Justin and I are both in this to make the world a better place and I think we can only do that if we operate from a position of authenticity and being who we are unapologetically. You are not always allowed to do that or build a culture in the corporate world.
On the management side, I want to work with people who are driven, and I’m always pushing our team to dig a little deeper and find their next level, because I believe we all have them. I think we all need people to show us the way, but through motivation and positive reinforcement, not fear-based techniques. I may be helping artists and writers steer their ship, but I am not the captain. I’m a part of their story.
I worked for Jon Platt for close to a decade. He always told me, “The good shit costs.” I like rewarding clients and paying for potential. That extra belief an employer has — it motivates people more.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten about working in the music business?
When I was just an assistant, my husband — who was my boyfriend then — would call and say “Hey, how’s the next best thing in music publishing doing this morning?” He believed in me. And I borrowed his belief in me so many times. I’d never seen myself as “the best” in anything. But the fact that somebody vocally reminded me of my potential was invaluable.
I’ve also learned a lot from Justin, through his activism, that you need to be vocal to the things that are important to you. And sometimes those things will upset people. But if it’s right for you and you’re believe you’re standing up for a greater good, then you should be willing to do it and deal with the critics.
And lastly, I used to sit in on calls with Jon a lot while at the beginning of my career, and I just noticed how he never let anyone make him feel small. It wasn’t a power thing — it was establishing with his tone of discussion and his style of negotiating deals that he knew his value and his worth. That confidence was so important to me, especially because I’m a female and a mother of two in the music industry who’s worked my way up not coming from any connections. I really valued how Jon is self-made and stands with so much integrity. Going back to the borrowing of belief — I feel I borrowed Jon’s belief in me and tried to figure out how I could use that for myself, too.
If you were entering the industry all over again today, would you do things differently? What would you say to a 21-year-old trying to come into music right now?
I would have believed in myself, truly, and a bit earlier. I don’t think I would apologize as much for things are just — you know. I felt in general a subservient vibe as a woman — that you never fully deserved your next step or promotion. I think it’s important that every person know their value from step one.
Maybe I would also got on myself sooner about being an entrepreneur. But I did learn so much in the corporate world that I’ve brought into my work now; there was not one day I didn’t learn something that I can’t apply to my current position in the industry. I feel you’re on the path you’re on for a reason, and all these little choices develop into bigger decisions to say yes to the right things. You just have to keep moving forward and not give up, that’s what I’d say to others.
Did you always think you’d go into music?
It kind of found me. I went to NYU’s film school and I made a ton of music videos and everyone else was obsessed with Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppola and I was just nerding out at the Irving Plaza show and thinking about what music video I could make to a bonus track John Mayer just released in Japan only, or something.
How has your approach to work changed since you started in music? And are there certain things you’ve picked up in the work-from-home era?
I’ve learned there are a lot of things I can delegate and make my time mean more, as opposed to feeling like I’m micromanaging myself. So it’s about turning over power to super-capable people on our teams so they can grow — I’m learning that.
I think momentum is key, so I try to start my day strong. When I’m not working, I usually start my day with a run to clear my head. But I am also a changing, evolving person, and so are people I’m working with and for, so I want to be aware of that. I like to implement times in my day to just be still and reflect.