The Producer’s Chair: Corey Crowder
Don’t miss ACM and Grammy-nominated producer/songwriter Corey Crowder on The Producer’s Chair Christmas Show, Thursday, Dec. 7 at World Music Nashville at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.
By: James Rea
Another Georgia boy, producer/songwriter Corey Crowder is killin’ it on both fronts, which comes as no surprise considering the journey that led him to co-producing his first major label artist, Chris Young, in 2014. All three singles from Young’s album I’m Comin’ Over went to No. 1, two of which Crowder wrote with Young and Josh Hoge, including the title track. Next came Young’s Christmas record released in Oct. 2016, followed by his recently-released album Losing Sleep, which debuted at No. 1 on the country albums rankings and Top 5 over all genres. The single “Losing Sleep” released in May, has sold over 130,000 copies to date. Crowder’s production discography now includes Eric Paslay, Seth Ennis (Sony), Cassadee Pope (BMLG), A Thousand Horses (BMLG), Jamie Lynn Spears, Cale Dodds (Warner Bros.), Canadian Jess Moskaluke, Tim Hicks, Lit and James Otto.
“We’re right in the heat of the Cale Dodds record and the Cassadee Pope record and I’m super-excited about that stuff,” Crowder says. “Cassadee is fun because she comes from the rock world too, so Cass and I get to blend this new school country thing with our love for the rock scene.”
Now couple that with Crowder’s songwriting accolades, including two No. 1 hits with Young, multiple ASCAP awards and a significant run of cuts with Jon Pardi, Justin Moore, Cole Swindell, Michael Ray, Chris Janson, Jerrod Niemann, Ennis, Kane Brown, Dodds, The Cadillac Three and Kenny Rogers, multiple Canadian chart-topping singles with Moskaluke and Hicks and continued success with film/TV placements on shows like ABC’s Nashville and CMT’s Gainesville, for which he wrote the theme song.
And it all began with a guitar that Crowder’s father bought him at a pawn shop.
But even after a couple of years worth of lessons at the pawn shop, guitar was barely a hobby, until Crowder started playing in church around 15, which is when he also started singing in high school, and later doing originals at George College open mic nights, while recording his songs on his Guitar Center beginner recording kit, in his bedroom and putting his music on MySpace. Though Crowder wasn’t interested in being on the show, they used his music in almost every show for the next five seasons, which was when Crowder realized he could make a living with music.
Because his songs were on TV, people were actually interested in seeing him so he started booking himself on tour (sometimes by himself and sometimes with a band) and every time he would have another 10 or 12 song placements on the reality show, he’d put them out as records, which eventually led to his first record deal in Nashville on a Christian label, Tooth n Nail Records, and his first publishing deal with EMI. When that didn’t work out for Crowder, he found himself back at home playing in bars, a little discouraged. But shortly thereafter, a rep from Sony Nashville was scouting talent at the UGA Music Business School and found Crowder through a mutual friend and took him to Nashville to play for Sony, who signed him at 26 to his second record deal ‘on the spot’, in 2009, which subsequently led to a pub deal with Universal. This brought Crowder back to Nashville, but this time, writing with Nashville’s best writers, because he had a deal. As Corey tells it, “I skipped the entry-level portion of it.”
Crowder eventually left Sony, and some of those hit writers stopped writing with him but, a lot of them had become friends and they and Crowder kept writing … and his writing career took off and his producing career blossomed. Crowder had produced his own records before coming to Nashville, but now he was in the studio producing demos “the Nashville way” and it wasn’t long before people started raving about his productions, which led to his first production credits with Spears and Moskaluke.
He got his first songwriter cut while he was with Universal. The Cadillac Three singled “Tennessee Mojo” in Europe, where they have a huge audience. Then, after three and a half years with Universal, Crowder wrote for Liz Rose for four years until just recently signing a new deal with Tree Vibez Music, which was founded by Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, in 2015.
The Producer’s Chair: Was there a moment in time when you decided that you didn’t want to pursue an artist career anymore?
Crowder: When I got dropped by Sony, I went through the panic of “I’ve always done this” and the idea of starting over was a little overwhelming. I kind of half-assed tried but that was the moment when I had the revelation of … hey, I’m just going to be a writer. What I love is writing and being in the studio. I don’t love being on stage. I don’t crave it, I don’t miss it, I dread shows, I get nervous … I’d just rather be in the studio and writing.
How did you and Chris Young meet?
In the writing room. Josh Hoge is a good friend of mine and a good friend of his. Chris got cancelled on so Josh called me and said Chris Young is available to write tomorrow, would you like to join, so I did. I spent time on the demo and Chris loved it. Then he wanted to write again, it was a real easy day. So we wrote a couple more times and we had drinks one night and Chris said; “Man, I want my records to sound like that.”
This is cool … Chris and I went into the studio but, he didn’t tell the label. He believed that I was the right producer, so much so that he was willing to risk his own money and we went in and cut six songs and then he brought the label in to listen and said, if the label doesn’t like ‘em, I’ll eat the money. I believe that you’re the guy to produce this with. And the label loved it and said, “Go finish the record.”
How has producing changed your perspective on the music industry?
It has definitely made me analyze data more and really pay attention to what tempos and topics thrive at radio. If you’re mixing for radio it’s different than if you’re mixing to make an art piece. I think it’s made me more hyper-aware of things like that and you start paying attention more.
When you go into the studio, what is your #1 goal, going in?
To make a record that the artist is proud of first and foremost … something they can stand behind because they have to sing it for the rest of their life, ideally. I think that’s where my artist career kicks in. I think I kind of produce like an artist.
Who is your engineer of choice and your A-team?
Nick Autry, the studio manager over at Sound Stage has been engineering for me for a long time. The guys who have played on about 90 percent of my records are Derek Wells, Miles McPherson, Tony Lucido, Dave Cohen, Carl Miner, Justin Shipper and recently I’ve used Dave Dorn, Rob McNally, Jody Canaday and Justin Ostrander. I tend to gravitate to guys my own age because, they listen to the same records I do and it’s easier to reference parts and tones. I also have a production assistant, Alyson McAnally, who is Mac McAnally’s daughter. She’s amazing and keeps me in order and looks after all things Corey Crowder Productions.
Does being a singer make you a better producer?
I don’t know if it makes me better. I do feel like it helps though. I think of parts that maybe someone that’s not as musical, or doesn’t sing, doesn’t think of. Sometimes it’s guitar lines that I can sing or hear in my head, as a singer. I definitely put more focus on the vocal than I do on anything else. That’s one thing that I would hope that I’m known for.
Are you developing new artists?
Since I did Chris, I get approached a lot by publishing companies who need a producer. And I love working with new artists. I’ve just got to be really careful that, if I pick an artist to work with, I don’t wanna do it for money, I wanna do it because really believe in it because it is so time-intensive. When I first started producing, Derek Wells and I had drinks one night and he said, “Make sure you believe it, before you do it.” … And I’ve always done that.
I understand you’ve been working with Morgan Myles in development. How did you meet?
I’ve known Morgan for many years. The same guy, Duane Hobson, that brought me to Sony from Athens, Georgia, works with Morgan too, so this is our full-circle moment, with Morgan. She’s really neat—kind of like an Amy Winehouse approach to country. It’s like country lyrically (based on a hook) and it kind of has some of those elements and she has this massive swagger to her voice and volume and control and she’s kind-of like a Janis Joplin kind of performer where she’s just kind of wacky on stage and I think people are really going to dig her. She’s really cool and I’m excited about it.
What do you look for when choosing and artist to produce?
You know this is cheesy but, there is an X-Factor thing, where you just buy it … I don’t know why … you just buy it. There were times when I thought that I was the only champion for Cale Dodds. I just always saw him as a star, certainly having a good voice. I like to work with singers. Everyone who I work with is a great singer.
Have you known Cale Dodds for a long time?
Cale’s band opened for me when he was 14. He and his brother Chase have been close friends of mine. They’re like family to me. His mom and dad are like second mom and dad to me. I was a big part of helping Cale get a record deal. I championed him around town for years. I wouldn’t be surprised if he called me in two seconds. We talk on the phone every day.
What advice would you give to new producers on how to get started?
Start writing with the artist and ‘crush’ every demo you produce. Take every demo that seriously and make ‘em sound like records. And pick some artists that you believe in that no-body knows about yet and develop it and do it for free, just to get some stuff under your belt so that, when a Chris Young or somebody comes along and you get to write with them, they go … damn, I love this guy’s stuff.
How did you feel when you were nominated for a Grammy?
God, I don’t know. I think I drank a bottle of whiskey that night … Really great. And because I worked with Cass too, it was cool to share that with Chris and Cass. It was Chris’s first time being nominated and his first time as a producer too, so we got to share that as well.
You came to Nashville in 2010. It’s only taken you seven years to find both songwriting and producing success. That’s really fast … What do you attribute your meteoric rise to?
I think being the good guy goes a long way and it provides you with opportunities because, you root on people you like and people like doing business with people they like.
But the other side of all of that is … I work my ass off. I don’t take any days off. When holidays come around and when everybody takes off, I’m workin’, cause it’s a chance to get a leg-up. So I think work ethic for sure and just plain ole luck—right place, right time.
Looking back … If you made any mistakes, what were they?
I don’t look at it that way. Every mistake I made, wound up leading to something good. For example, when I had my record deal, I kind of let everybody dictate what I should sound like and I didn’t really push to sound like I wanted to. That was a mistake but, I’m really thankful because I love where I’m at right now because, if I’d kept my record deal, I’d be on the road and maybe I wouldn’t have my kids. I’m glad I make mistakes, if I made ’em.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing your future?
I think they’re the same challenges facing our entire industry’s future. We have to fix the way songwriters are paid or music as we know it will die. We have to change legislation or there’ll be 10 percent of us making money and the rest of us will all die. It’s a challenge facing us all. I went to DC with NSAI this year once and I’m really supporting Lee Miller’s run for congress and I’m really supportive of NSAI because that affects everything in our whole business. It affects me as a producer and it affects me as a songwriter. We have to fix that, so I’m super-passionate about that. I saw Bart Herbison the other night at the ASCAPs and he was the most optimistic I have ever seen him. He said we’re really close on this bill. So I’m really excited and trying my best to just wave the flag on that one.
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