Welcome to the Writers Round, a monthly column where Sounds Like Nashville sits down with Nashville-based songwriters and learns about each writer’s journey to Music City. This month, Corey Crowder sheds some light into his life as a songwriter as well as shares the stories behind some of his many hits including Chris Young and Cassadee Pope’s Grammy-nominated “Think of You” and Eric Paslay’s “Angels In This Town.”
Corey Crowder never dreamed of being in a band or on the stage. Music was simply a hobby until he started playing guitar and singing in church as a teenager. Soon after, all he cared about was music and in college he frequently played open mic nights where listeners loved his original songs. This prompted him into forming several bands, thinking he wanted to be Dashboard Confessional and Death Cab for Cutie until he discovered Bob Dylan.
“Bob Dylan sent me down a spiral and I got really into Southern rock and I started playing,” he recalls nostalgically from his writers studio at Liz Rose Music in Nashville.
He eventually acquired a record deal with Christian label Tooth & Nail Records where he released one album, Gold and the Sand, but it was far from a success. Soon he found himself dropped from his label as he and his wife moved from Tennessee back home to Georgia.
“I felt like there was my shot, I bombed, and I might as well just play bars,” he admits. “I went home and worked for a t-shirt company. I sold t-shirts to bands that I had toured with.”
This was far from Crowder’s last foray in the music industry. Back in Georgia, his wife decided to submit one of his songs to country station 94.9 The Bull for their locals only Saturday night radio program. Liking what they heard, the station played Crowder’s song “Love” and EMI executive Bruce Burch was flipping through stations when he heard the track.
The two knew each other from his t-shirt selling days so Burch called Crowder and convinced him to meet in Athens, Ga. the next day where he was running a music business program. Another music executive, Duane Hobson, joined them and suggested Crowder give Nashville one more shot and to play for the head of Sony. Still uncertain about Music City, he decided to give it a try and got a developmental deal with Sony during his first meeting in 2009. So, he and his wife packed back up and moved to Nashville and he began writing another album.
“I signed a publishing deal with Universal and just started writing like crazy. Every day. Once, twice a day. Sometimes three times,” he recalls. “They had paired me with a producer and we were writing for my record. I didn’t get to pick my songs. It was the first time I had ever been in that process. What I loved most was writing and not necessarily the performing aspect.”
Soon after, there was a regime change at Sony and his deal got dropped. He says it was the best thing that’s ever happened to him, though, as he quickly realized he didn’t want an artist career. Instead, he wanted to be a songwriter, something he didn’t think was an option until he began getting holds and cuts with his songs.
“You start going, ‘Maybe I can make a living doing this.’ I started over. Once I left my deal at Universal, I made that decision the moment that I said, ‘Forever, here on out, no more artist. Writer/producer only,'” he says. “That’s been the last four years. There’s a million ways to get here, but that was my way that I ended up here.”
Over the past four years as a full-time songwriter, Crowder has accomplished more than most achieve in a lifetime. He was recently nominated for a GRAMMY for Chris Young and Cassadee Pope’s “Think of You” in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category where he is both a songwriter and producer on the track. It’s recognition he never thought he’d see and a bucket list moment.
Crowder wrote “Think of You” with Young and Josh Hoge and says the song was inspired in part by a friend who had recently gotten divorced. While Crowder has known his wife since he was 16, he said he began thinking about how terrible it would be for their friends if they split up.
“Our identity is in each other because we’ve been with each other over half our lives,” he explains. “I knew that one was something special when we wrote it. That rarely happens. Usually when I think a song’s a hit, it’s not. That one I was like, ‘That song’s a smash.’ I just knew it. It felt different. Maybe it was because it came from a real place that I felt that way.”
His journey into songwriting and producing wasn’t an easy one and Crowder says his first three years was songwriting boot camp where he wrote all the time, trying to figure out what his voice was. He admits that those years included a lot of song chasing.
“I’d be like, ‘That’s working on the radio. I’m going to chase after that.’ It wasn’t until I had written a certain amount of songs where you start to realize the best songs that I’m writing and the ones people care most about are the ones that are what I think is cool and not necessarily what’s currently working,” he says.
Crowder has seen success with several songs cut by Chris Young, A Thousand Horses and Eric Paslay, among others. He credits his busy production schedule to Young, as he has co-produced his recent albums I’m Comin’ Over and It Must Be Christmas. Crowder calls frequent collaborators Young and Hoge friends and says they all listen to different genres of music which makes for a unique combination when they get together to write.
Hoge first introduced Young to Crowder, urging them to get together and write a song years ago. Their first session was a track called “Alone Tonight” which ended up on Young’s I’m Comin’ Over album. Pleased with how their first co-write went, Young booked five more dates and pretty soon their co-writes would turn into lunches and all-day hangs as the three became fast friends.
“We started becoming better friends and, as we started to become better friends, the songs got better and Chris eventually was like, ‘These demos are how I want my records to sound. Would you be interested in producing this record with me?’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah! Let’s do it.’ That’s how all that started. It was very organic,” Crowder explains. “It sparked this new life for me which I love. I’m forever grateful to Chris for doing that.”
Meanwhile, Young praises his co-producer and frequent songwriting partner.
“We just immediately clicked. Corey’s one of the nicest guys, one of the hardest working guys that I’ve been around,” Young tells Sounds Like Nashville. “Being able to co-produce music with that guy is something that I feel very lucky to be able to get to do. I’m very glad that I got a chance to get to know him and obviously we’ve been doing a lot of work together since.”
While Crowder has written well over 2,000 songs to date, two songs he cites as more meaningful include Jon Pardi’s “Can’t Turn You Down” off his 2016 release California Sunrise and Eric Paslay’s “Angels In This Town.” Crowder said hearing Pardi’s version sounded much better than he ever could have imagined.
“It brought the song to a new light for me,” Crowder says of “Can’t Turn You Down.” “The more I play it, the more the song is special to me. It was the first time that had happened where it went from demo form and it sounded so different from the demo, but so awesome. I love that song. I hope it is a single and is a big ole hit.”
Meanwhile, “Angels In This Town” holds personal meaning for Crowder as it has a line that recalls a head-on collision a friend had with a tractor-trailer: “Dozed off hard, night shift tired.”
“We had one of our good friends pass away years ago in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer. He fell asleep and he passed away,” Crowder says. “The truck aspect of that line is from our buddy. That’s a heavy song for sure, but in a good way. It has a lot of personal meaning.”
Crowder has been through a lot in his career but says he would never change a thing about his path to Nashville.
“Every person that I’ve come in contact with has taught me something, and every situation, for better or for worst, has taught me something that I’ve grown from and become better for,” he says.
So what’s his best advice for aspiring songwriters? He says “just write.” The more you write, the better you get. He also stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with people who aren’t yes men and don’t tell you everything you write is good. He says it’s important to have people that can say, “I don’t think that’s your best writing.”
“I was told when I first moved here, ‘Constantly write up. Don’t write down. That’s how you get better,'” he explains about writing with people who are more experienced than he is. “I tried to learn something from everybody I wrote with and it really helped… You always hear it, but this town you have to stick it out. Nothing happened really substantial for me until year five or six. I feel pretty lucky that it happened that soon, because I know people that have been here 10 or 15 years before it happens. It’s really just finding a way to survive until it happens.”