Corey Crowder Talks Songwriting at 30A Songwriters Festival

For more than 10 years, Corey Crowder has proven himself an in-demand songwriter and producer in the country genre. Crowder has amassed numerous No. 1 hits with Chris Young, including “I’m Comin’ Over,” “Hangin’ On,” and “Famous Friends,” which was named the most-played country song of 2021.

Videos by American Songwriter

Ahead of his performance at 30A Songwriters Festival alongside country hitmakers Frank Rogers, Jaren Johnston, and Rachel Wammack at WaterColor LakeHouse, Crowder shared the stories behind Young’s “Famous Friends” and “All Dogs Go to Heaven.” He also explained why Blake Shelton’s top 10 hit “Minimum Wage” holds more meaning to him today than when he first wrote the song.

Now in its 14th year, 30A Songwriters Festival is a four-day celebration of songwriting. Located along the 30A resort corridor on the Gulf of Mexico in Northwest Florida, 30A Songwriters Festival includes more than 175 artists and singer/songwriters performing throughout the week.  

Learn more about Crowder’s songwriting journey and hit songs in American Songwriter’s Q&A below.

American Songwriter: What does it mean as a songwriter to perform at a festival that highlights songwriters? Does it inspire you to write more songs?

Corey Crowder: It’s impossible not to be [inspired], especially playing around some of the best in the world. Some of the best in our genre right now are in this round tonight. It’s impossible not to be when you hear great, great songs that are well done, and I love hearing everybody’s stories too. Even though I’m a writer I just kind of geek out over the stories.

AS: Tell us about your songwriting journey. Did you grow up writing songs?

CC: No, I played sports. Nobody in my family was into music. My dad collected junk. It sounds funny, but he loved the pawnshop and I tagged along and begged for a guitar because they always had guitars on the wall. He bought me a guitar for Christmas and then I took lessons in the closet at the pawnshop, but I just did it for fun. I honestly did it just to impress my friends, but I fell in love with it. I wrote my first song at 18.

AS: Do you remember the first song you wrote?

CC: It was a Christian song. I was playing in church a lot and so it probably sounded a lot like everything I was singing. I didn’t really know anything about songwriting, and I’ve learned so much over the last 20 years.

AS: When do you feel like you arrived as a songwriter?

CC: Maybe as recent as 10 years ago. I always thought of myself as an artist then, but I’ve kind of merged those worlds. For me, once I gave up the artist’s dream, I got to really dig into the craft, figure out what makes a great song, and how to get there. My first cut is probably when I would assume that I was a songwriter at a professional level.

AS: What was your first cut?

CC: The first song I had recorded by another artist was Jaren’s [Johnston] band, the Cadillac Three. “Tennessee Mojo” was my first cut.

AS: 10 years later one of your songs, Chris Young and Kane Brown’s “Famous Friends,” was the most-played country song of 2021. Tell me about writing that one.

CC: I thought it was a really cool idea in a song and I knew that the vibe of the song was really different, especially for Chris. It was always a favorite of me and Chris and Cary [Barlowe]. Obviously, we wrote it so we were biased. I didn’t assume it was a big song. I just liked it.

Once Kane got on it and I heard Kane on and I thought, “Man, this could be really big” because it somehow meant way more with his voice on it as well. Just knowing the history of the guys, about Kane idolizing Chris’s voice forever growing up and then the two meeting and becoming buddies and going on tour together. I just thought it was pretty full circle from two literal famous guys to sing about all their friends back home that are famous in their hometown.

AS: Is there a lyric in that song that holds more meaning to you now than when you first wrote it?

CC: I like the Teacher of the Year [lyric]. My wife Laney, her best friend is Dori, and she’s the ultimate teacher. She’s such a great person, but she’s had multiple Teacher of the Year wins and so I think of her when I hear that song.

AS: So, the song came from a personal place.

CC: Oh, yeah. We had lots of verses that didn’t make the song too. It’s so easy to think about all these characters in your town, and what role they play and who’s the one you need to know and all that kind of stuff. It was fun. Honestly, a lot of our people are the same, coming from three different spots.

AS: Another song you wrote with Chris Young was just released.

CC: Yeah, “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” which is me Cale [Dodds], and Chris. We wrote that at a bar. We were watching the football game and I just made a mention, I said, “Dude, Chris, how’s your dog? You should write a dog song” because he has a dog that’s Instagram famous.

He was like, “Man, I don’t want to have a sad song. So, until I can come up with a way to have a song about a dog that’s not sad, I’m not gonna do it.” We just sat there and started throwing ideas around, in the middle of the bar, and that one came up. We ended up writing it and then he wanted to record it immediately. He posted a clip of the demo and people loved it and started reposting it. So, we just kind of fast-tracked the recording of it. It’s pretty cool. I don’t think I’ve ever written a song in a bar.

AS: Do you have a favorite lyric that hasn’t made it into a song yet?

CC: Honestly, I try to write the song and then forget about it. I know that sounds crazy, but to write the number of songs we write you have to be able to get that skill to where you can leave that song behind and then feel like, “Okay, I finished that. It’s done.” I don’t typically think about them until they’re recorded or a hit or something. Typically, they just sit on my computer. I know that sounds terrible, but you just kind of have to, that way I don’t repeat myself.

AS: Is there any songwriting advice that has stuck with you?

CC: I think just repetition. I’m a big golfer and so I always relate the two, because to me they’re very similar. Unless you get out and swing a lot, your muscle memory, it’s impossible to remember that swing. It’s the same as songs. The more that I’ve written, the more I know how to get to the hook in different situations better. And so, you have somebody that gives a great hook and you’re trying to figure out how to even go about structuring that out well, reps to me fix that. You write enough of them, you’ll learn, “Oh, I nailed that that day” and “I’m gonna catalog how I got there.” And then you just learn these little tricks but you only get them from reps.

Nobody likes that advice because you’re basically saying go write a ton of songs. But it’s the best advice, honestly. I mean, you just have to get through them. Your new one is always the best one. I just write every day and try to finish the song every day. Whether it’s good or not just finish it so it’s done.

AS: Is there a song of yours that holds more meaning to you now than when you first wrote it?

CC: “Minimum Wage” has always had a lot of meaning to me just because it’s my story with [wife] Laney and I never imagined it being cut by anybody. Definitely not Blake [Shelton]. He’s one of my favorite voices so that was really cool for me, but I just never expected that. But that one holds obviously more weight being that is kind of true. I don’t write a whole lot of true songs about myself. Most of the time we’re trying to write someone else’s truth. That one holds a special place for me always. I always play it. I’ll play it tonight.

AS: Is there one lyric that is her favorite or your favorite?

CC: It’s true, her dad was crying at our wedding but not sweet tears. Sad she was marrying me because I was a broke musician [laughs]. He liked me. It was just kind of like, “Oh no, I’m scared for my daughter.” It’s so funny because the lyric says, Her daddy was crying when he gave her away /  Because all those country songs I played / They didn’t come with a 401K. That’s a pretty quirky funny little way of saying it. Very true. He loves it now. He’s very supportive.

Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for CMA

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