Johnny Crowder – At 25, I Finally Felt Healthy Enough to be a Person (366)

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All of us have been through challenges that no one else has been through, and those circumstances give you a license to speak to people that have been through challenges as well. It gives you an opportunity to help people while already having the credibility and experience to do so. Pain can be a gift if we allow it to, so today’s guest encourages us to turn our pain into purpose and use it to help others. Your pain gives you a license whether you use it or not, so might as well put it to use. Johnny Crowder has an amazingly inspirational story of doing just that,

Johnny Crowder is a resilience, well-being, and mental health expert. He is also a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist, and Founder and CEO of Cope Notes®. Johnny gives people practical self-care tools and mental health strategies that they can start using now to improve their emotional health and well-being. With infectious positivity, humor, and authenticity, this trauma survivor and Certified Recovery Peer Specialist shows audiences why opening up about mental health is the key to coping. Whether he’s discussing ordinary, everyday struggles or challenges like anxiety, depression, addiction, burnout, and compassion fatigue, Johnny confronts the myths that keep people stuck. As he explains in his 2020 TEDx Talk which has been viewed over one million times, good mental health is like physical health. Quick fixes and miracle cures don’t work. Johnny provides people with a toolkit of self-care and wellness techniques that rewire the brain for positivity over time.

In this episode of the How’d It Happen podcast, Johnny shares about growing up in an abusive household, the miracles that happened to get him help, bodybuilding and OCD, why he feels like a 5-year-old, and how the idea for his company, Cope Notes, got off the ground. Johnny is super likable, super relatable, and super inspirational. 

Key highlights:

  • Going from being unable to speak to others and make eye contact, to now speaking on stages and helping hundreds of thousands of people
  • Johnny’s mental health issues that began in childhood and progressed until they couldn’t be ignored
  • Why he started bodybuilding at 13 years old
  • The mental health battle he faced in his teenage years and how he finally got help
  • Johnny compares dental health to mental health
  • How Johnny got started singing 
  • How Johnny started his business Cope Notes
  • Johnny explains neuroplasticity and how people are malleable and have the ability to heal their mental health
  • Why journaling builds emotional intelligence

Episode resources:

Try Cope Notes for free:

Connect with Johnny Crowder:

Instagram: @johnnycrowderlovesyou

Website: |

Facebook: Johnny Crowder

LinkedIn: Johnny Crowder

Watch the video version of this episode below:

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Episode transcript below:




people, psychology courses, ocd, literally, johnny, text message, feel, therapist, thought, listening, shower, brain, song, band, sharing, crowder, sounded, life, notes, doctors


Johnny Crowder, Mike Malatesta


Mike Malatesta  00:02

All right. 321 Hey, Johnny, welcome to the podcast.


Johnny Crowder  00:10

I am pumped to be here. Let’s rock.


Mike Malatesta  00:14

So, for those of you who may want to know, I will let you know that I first heard of Johnny, few, maybe a month ago, it was on a Saturday. And I was listening to the Steve Sims, art of making things happen podcast. And I was I just happen to be on my way home from the funeral of a colleague of mine that I had worked with for many years, and his son in his mid 20s, passed away. And it doesn’t matter why. But I’m driving back from that. And I pop on Steve Sims. And I’m like, listening to Johnny Crowder. And it was almost as if and you’ll understand why as we get into this, it was almost as if he was put in front of me that afternoon as I was driving home from from that funeral. Because, you know, because of the circumstances that were involved in this funeral that that I was at. So you’ll, you’ll you’ll understand more about that when he starts when we start exploring his story, but but let me tell you a little bit about Johnny to get you as excited as I am. So Johnny Crowder is a suicide and abuse survivor, a TEDx speaker, the lead singer of the heavy metal band prison. I listened to several of your songs this morning. To get me ready for this to get me pumped. A certified recovery peer specialist and the founder and CEO of cope notes ce o p e notes, the tech space mental health platform that provides daily support to users in nearly 100 countries around the world. His TEDx talk, which is called how to grow as a person and in parentheses and why it sucks has more than 1 million views. Congratulations on that Johnny. He’s got the words you matter tattooed on the back of his neck and save them on his knuckles. And he’s got a cross on his face. And if that doesn’t tell you who Johnny is, then probably nothing well. You can connect with Johnny find out more about him on his website, which is his name, Johnny. Crowder’s C. r OWD You can find out about his company open note, cope notes, C O P. E, and ote. Instagram, he’s Johnny Crowder, loves you. And LinkedIn. He’s Johnny Crowder, which is how I initially connected with him. So Johnny, I start every show with the same simple question. And that is, how did happen for you?


Johnny Crowder  02:59

I think the only honest answer to that is I have no freaking idea. I have no clue. I do my best to keep journals and keep track like I journal every night and I list things I’m grateful for and things I’m praying for. And when I look back at my journals, I think how on earth did any of this become what it is? I think if I had to attribute any of this progress, any of like the miracles to anyone or anything, the immediate answer is God, because there’s no way that I would be able to do it on my own. But the answer right behind that is honestly, I think the fact that I get to work full time in behavioral health now after living with a lifetime of severe mental illness is nothing short of this kind of cocktail of stubbornness and indignance like I would when I felt pain. I thought it’s so not fair that I’m feeling this pain that I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that I stopped feeling it and that other people stopped feeling it too. And I think that’s a classic sort of DIY punk attitude towards recovery that now I think I’ve matured a little bit I like to think I’m matured a little bit but at the time, it was all I can’t believe I feel this way. I’m going to do everything I can to get out of it and make sure that other people can do.


Mike Malatesta  04:27

So that’s interesting, because I would have thought something a little bit different when you especially with the music when you say, you know I wanted to get out of this pain and I wanted other people to get out of it as well. Because sometimes when I just didn’t do that in heavy metal or punk genre in general, I’ve always felt a bit more like accepting the pain, like the pain that you you can’t run from the pain so you’ve got to accept it and you got to like just dig into Do it. And that sounds a little bit different than what you described.


Johnny Crowder  05:03

Yeah, there’s, this is a both and scenario. So there were days where, and right now I’m working way more on acceptance like the last maybe five years of my life a big focus in, in treatment and outside of it has been, how can I make peace with what has already happened? How can I stop fighting against things that are in my past that have kept me held back for so long, because I won’t let them go. Like working on that acceptance. But I can definitely say that when I was younger, and when I first started, when I first started making music when I first started volunteering in the behavioral health space, when I was first taking psychology courses, there was not a lot of acceptance in me, it was more like I will do whatever it takes to not feel this way.


Mike Malatesta  05:52

Okay. And it wasn’t about I feel terrible. So I’m going to make other people feel terrible.


Johnny Crowder  06:01

There was I’m not gonna lie. There was part of me that I had to fight. Part of me that wanted other you know, Misery loves company. Yeah, yeah, I felt so alienated especially when you’re you’re talking middle school and high school, I’m hallucinating. I’m self harming, I don’t feel really connected to the people around me. I felt so disconnected that I almost and this is sad to admit, but at the time, I did have to actively fight against the part of me that said, I wish other people felt this way so that I didn’t feel so alone in this. And as I got older, I started realizing, wow, it’s kind of good, that other people can’t relate to certain parts of my story, because it means that they didn’t have to go through this.


Mike Malatesta  06:46

Right. And I think I heard you talk about I’m not sure if it was on your, in your TED talk or not. But this sort of other side to that, which was it was also good to know that 1% or something like that if people in the world have struggle with the same thing. So it’s so you’re not alone. So it’s kind of interesting. So you’re thankful that most people don’t. But you’re also thankful that’s, there’s a community of people who do and it seems like a weird sort of thankfulness. But do I have that right?


Johnny Crowder  07:24

Yeah, absolutely. When I, so I wrote a song about recovering from sexual abuse in my band prison, we put out a song maybe 2017 or so. And we had messages coming in and people saying, Oh, I relate to this so much. And when I read a message like that, I was it was so bittersweet. Because I was like, Oh, I can’t believe you can relate to this. That’s so sad that you’ve been through something similar. But also, I feel strengthened that we’re connecting in this way. It’s so difficult to describe, because I certainly in a perfect world, nobody would have any idea what I was talking about, and everyone would feel lovely. But that’s not the world we live in. So it makes it all the more important that people who do experience similar types of pain, connect with each other, honestly, instead of pretending that we haven’t gone through these things.


Mike Malatesta  08:16

And when you were talking earlier, you mentioned the miracles and can you? Can you help me understand what some of the miracles have been that have led to whatever you describe them as having led to?


Johnny Crowder  08:31

Yeah, I mean, if you look at my story on paper, it’s boy grows up with the inability to speak in complete sentences or make eye contact, and then becomes a professional speaker. Like already that’s like, how the heck did that happen? And then there’s someone who’s not able to drive who then tours across the country in a band driving eight plus hours every single day, playing a different city every night like there’s so many things that I think have been flipped on their heads and this is not I want to emphasize this is not me strategically overcoming things by doing the opposite it was there is an element of kind of unexplained I genuinely don’t know how I got through these hardships that have resulted in like, for example, that song that I said, has literally prevented sexual assaults. I’m not making this up. We’ve had people send us stories of people saying that because I went through this thing and then wrote a song about it that has prevented that happening from other people. So the trend in my life is awful thing or limitation becomes a source of liberation and freedom and relief for not just me but other people through becoming its exact opposite.


Mike Malatesta  09:50

Do you think Johnny when you were young? It because it sounded Like, and I don’t want to, I guess I don’t want to presume this. But it sounded like as I was talking or listening to you. You had these you had various issues, some of which you’ve already mentioned. I would say I would add, like OCD to it. You had you had, you had a lot of things going on. Did you get any? Did you have any as a young kid? Did you have any intervention, any assistance? And the reason? The reason I’m asking is because it’s come to my attention, that oftentimes the things that end up manifesting as mental illness, say and in adults, is really something that started in childhood and was never addressed. It was sort of like, Man, I hope, he she, whatever grows out of Yes, or whatever. And it’s just sort of like, kick. So I’m just wondering, how did you ever have any sort of therapy intervention, anything as a youngster that just? Or was it? No, and maybe if you had, you wouldn’t have had some of the struggles you’ve had? Or?


Johnny Crowder  11:15

Yeah, I think you bring up a good point, like, so I grew up in the 90s. I was born in 92. So in the 90s, this sort of traditional 90s mindset, from what I can tell is, though, it’s a phase, though, certainly, it’s not anything serious. And so there was a lot of like, burying our heads in the sand for not not just my parents, but also for me and my brothers, like we were all, you know, I would punch a hole on the wall or scream at the top of my lungs or harm myself be behaving in these ways that are very clearly not conducive to like a healthy childhood. And I think all of us thought, well, he he’s just particular or he loses his temper, or there’s, it had this sort of vague, shapeless identity, where I think when I became when I got into high school, and my behavior started becoming dangerous towards myself and other people, in a very difficult to ignore way, I think that’s when my mom in particular was like, wow, if we don’t do something now, someone will be in jail, someone will be in the hospital, and I’d rather have the hard conversation with my son of getting him to go see a therapist or take medication, then have a conversation with someone at a morgue, you know?


Mike Malatesta  12:41

Yeah. Okay. So that. So it’s sort of like, I was thinking like, oh, Johnny’s got some funny because everyone says, Johnny, but your real name is Johnny. But Johnny’s got an attitude problem, let’s say as a kid, and that’ll go away, you know, as he matures, or, or whatever. But it sounds like you’re finally got to the point where you got the first assistance, or some sort of assistance when you’re in high school.


Johnny Crowder  13:09

Yeah, that was around 16 years old is when now it started getting really debilitating. So I was, I was being


Mike Malatesta  13:18

good. I said, explain that debilitating if you’re


Johnny Crowder  13:21

Yeah, so I’ll give you a quick walk through of my childhood. So, as a toddler, I was self harming so I had to be watched to make sure I wouldn’t break things or hurt myself very, very young age to be exhibiting that type of behavior, very atypical. And then elementary school and middle school, I’m slowly becoming more disconnected from the people around me because come Middle School, I’m not touching doorknobs I’m not touching other people. So no hugs or high fives or handshakes or anything. I’m not touching my food. I’m having difficulty making eye contact and forming complete sentences. So I become more and more disconnected. And then by late middle school, early high school, I start experiencing severe hallucination. So auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations. And I think around that point, I had also been becoming kind of strong I was doing. I was, I got started with bodybuilding when I was 13 years old, which is far too young. Also a classic OCD coping mechanism if anyone’s ever read about OCD, is bodybuilding. So I got really strong, which meant that when I did lose my temper, the stakes became higher, I could cause more damage and I think that’s what really started set. setting the alarm bells off in my mom’s head that was like, wow, if we don’t rein this in soon, he could cause a lot of damage to himself and other people.


Mike Malatesta  14:48

Okay. And forgive me, I don’t know. I didn’t know the bodybuilding OCD connection is because you have to grab a bar you have to grab, you have to touch gangs to body but yeah.


Johnny Crowder  15:02

Oh yeah, big challenge. So really OCD is in some ways it’s about control. Okay, and bodybuilding and exercise as a way where you can exert a ton of control over what you do. So I would work out obsessively. So three hours a day, six days a week, I would eat two of everything I ate. So if you have one sandwich for lunch, I have two sandwiches for lunch, basically, double portions of everything. And it was all about controlling input and output, which eventually lead to an injury working out. And this is such a classic. Like, if you read about OCD and bodybuilding, just Google it and you’ll read all these stories about famous bodybuilders successful bodybuilders who struggle with OCD.


Mike Malatesta  15:52

So is it? Sorry, I’m just curious here. Is it the is it that what happens to your body? Or is it the reps like doing the just the pattern? Or what is it,


Johnny Crowder  16:08

it’s a lot of those things. So it’s basically when I was living with really invasive OCD, it was affecting almost every part of my daily life, it was all about being able to control a certain thing. So if the classic example, which I think is not representative of OCD entirely is a crooked painting on the wall, and you want to like adjust the painting. While that’s not the best example. It is an example of someone wanting to exert control over something to make it right. So if you’re designing your entire workout, schedule, your entire workout routine, you pick how many sets how many reps, how many exercises, and then you execute on that you have a chance to reach 100% completion of something that you created. So it is this very sort of satiating, yet, in a weird way, self harming and self punishing thing that you can disguise as a healthy behavior,


Mike Malatesta  17:05

okay. And it’s also something that you can complete without anybody else.


Johnny Crowder  17:12

That is the most I was so bad in team sports, because you have so little control, but the less people are involved, the more control you have. So it’s a very solo, you’ll actually read about boxers who have OCD golfers, a lot of solo sports,


Mike Malatesta  17:28

okay. And so when you when you, you’re 16. And you know, your mom, you and your mom have this conversation, and were you open, reluctant you know, aggressively reluctant. What were you to initially exploring this with a therapist or


Johnny Crowder  17:51

so I was, I was sort of blackmailed by my mom in a good way. I think because what happened? I was 16. And I long story short. And I won’t tell the whole story here. It’s pretty personal. But I did the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done in regards of compromising my own safety and the safety of other people. And then I ran away from home. And when I came back, my mom said, Okay, it’s been moving towards this for a long time. And now we can either she said, either I can drive you to the hospital. And you can have, you can sit down and talk to a doctor about what’s going on. And they can try to figure out something they can do to help you or I can call the police and they can take you to the doctor and you can have that conversation. So really, your only choice is how you want to get to the doctors. Either I can drive you or the police can drive you and I think she she did say it. She didn’t say it exactly like that. But looking back, I think that was the best choice she gave me because she didn’t give me a choice between seeing a doctor and not because I would have said no, absolutely no way. And I was not easy. Once I started treatment. I was I was a problem client for sure. But the choice between do I want my mom to drive me or a police officer? It was a pretty easy choice for me. And


Mike Malatesta  19:22

so you get there and is it like, wow, this works and I’m


Johnny Crowder  19:33

Yeah, and it was magic.


Mike Malatesta  19:36

Magic. Yes. Right. Right. Right. A Jim Carrey moment I think is how you might have Yes, do it in your Yeah,


Johnny Crowder  19:41

yeah, I was. I was a such a brat. I would not listen, I was argumentative. I didn’t believe anything. My doctors said no matter who and I saw multiple clinicians, but actually this sort of distrust of doctors and discuss intent and frustration and combativeness in a clinical setting actually led to me taking psychology courses, because I was like all I’ll learn things that my doctors don’t know. And I’ll be able to fix myself, which changed the course of my life. So I think it turned into a good but it didn’t start out as one.


Mike Malatesta  20:17

So another control thing like body. Wow, great


Johnny Crowder  20:20

point. Yes, absolutely.


Mike Malatesta  20:24

So you took those classes tell me what, what, what was the moment? Or what was the outcome of what? I know what you got into it for what came out of it? Like, how were you? Yeah, what came out of that


Johnny Crowder  20:39

the biggest takeaway from taking psychology courses, I would say, is probably the fact that your brain is an organ that is part of your biology. And just like you can change other functions of your biology, like your circadian rhythm, or your body fat percentage, your blood pressure based on things that you do in your daily life. Once I learned that, I could also change the way that my brain function based on how I was eating, how I was sleeping, how I was exercising, how is communicating with other people, I thought that I was stuck with a broken brain forever. And I think taking psychology courses taught me know, like, if you break your arm for a while it’s broken, and then you can eventually rehab it. And the same is true for your brain. It was so eye opening and liberating. And I don’t know why culturally, we still separate the brain from the body. It’s literally inside your body.


Mike Malatesta  21:36

It is your body. Yeah. Well, it’s the most, it’s the most significant organ you have, right, but no kidding. But but it’s, it’s the easiest. Like, this is just me talking, but it’s the easiest one to ignore. It’s also the the, it’s also the easiest one, to create a story around for yourself, like I, you know, it’s just it. It’s smarter than than you. Yes. Sometimes it’s just smarter than you. And so people don’t want to deal with it. It’s like AI or something. It’s like, I don’t want to deal with that. smarter than me.


Johnny Crowder  22:13

I’ve read a little bit about actually quite a bit about Taoism and Eastern philosophy and stoicism and all these different modes of thinking. And one thing that has stuck out to me that I always relate to the brain is a knife cannot cut itself. And in the same way, it’s very difficult for the brain to take an inventory of itself, right? To like, okay, is my brain being healthy? It’s like, oh, no, my brain is kind of biased. It’s kind of like, when a company does their own regulation, rather than an outside they’re like, oh, yeah, we’re not polluting we checked. You checked. You have a lot different incentives. And I think that’s how the brain is. Oh, I’m healthy. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.


Mike Malatesta  22:56

Yeah, I’m, I bring, like, I’m focused on keeping you alive, dude. I mean, I don’t have I don’t have time for introspection.


Johnny Crowder  23:03

Yeah. Which is the best work you could ever do. Right?


Mike Malatesta  23:09

So when you came out of these courses in college, what you’re good at you’re you’re understanding the brain, what’s changing about you? How are you? From 16 to say, whatever you are 2021 What’s changing about you something changed about you significantly, from my limited observation of your story, something changed significantly.


Johnny Crowder  23:35

It Oh, I, you know, I wish it was in my college years, but it was not. I got, I got my symptoms got way worse before they got better, significantly, significantly worse. So I started treatment. When I was 16, I would say the absolute worst my mental health has ever been, was probably ages 16 to maybe 23 or 24. And I mean, this is what I always want to communicate to people on why I wrote my TED talk the way that I did my first one. Because I think there’s this misconception that once you understand this thing, then that leads to life change. And in some cases, that can be true. But for me, it took eight years of trying and learning and practicing cycling through doctors and functionally changing the way that I lived my life. Reading books, like participating in activities that I knew it’d be healthier for me trying different medications. I mean, throwing the kitchen sink at my behavioral health to the point where when I was probably 2524 25 is when I started feeling healthy enough to be a person I feel I’m 30 years old. I feel five. I feel like I just started my life. So there I wish that while I was taking those psychology courses, everything drastically changed for me for the better, but it took many years, not everybody will experience this everyone’s, you know, experience with their symptoms and with their learning is going to be different. But for me, it got way worse before it got better.


Mike Malatesta  25:27

You feel like you’re five, or like that


Johnny Crowder  25:30

I do. I have this huge, like, childish aside in me that loves like, play, I love to play, like goofing off and having fun and not worrying quote unquote, about adult things. Now I also run a tech startup, so I can’t goof off all the time. But for me, I I find so much peace and like, you know, feeling wind or like eating a popsicle or like these things that you’re like, Well, yeah, that would make a toddler excited. But why would it make a 30? year old excited,


Mike Malatesta  26:03

right? Johnny, when was the first time that you started talking about your experiences


Johnny Crowder  26:14

was when I was still not well. So that was probably the first time I ever spoke about it on a stage like because now I do a huge part of my life is advocacy. So I speak at conferences and events, and I travel all over doing that, which I would never expect. Because when I was in high school, my number one priority was to make sure that no one found out that I was living with mental illness. And now I make I’m on the billboard for it. But I would say 19 is when was the first time I spoke on a stage about what I was going through. And what’s weird is it was actually easier for me to do that speak to say to strangers from a stage than it was for me to talk to a friend or family member about it.


Mike Malatesta  27:01

See, that’s that’s interesting, because I don’t think that’s weird. Because even like I don’t, I don’t struggle with the same types of things that you’ve been through. But I find getting up in front of strangers and talking about something that’s important to me or whatever is much easier than doing it in front of people that I know, I’m more nervous about doing it in front of people that I know. Which is so I don’t think that’s I don’t think that’s weird. I think that’s actually kind of natural, because it’s easy to be anonymous, sort of with other people, right? So there’s sort of an invitation, even though they know who you are, and there’s really no anonymity to it. You don’t know them. So yeah, kind of anonymous. But that’s interesting. So you start doing it at 19. The reason I asked a question was because I feel like well, obviously, it’s become a huge part of your life. And now you’re helping other people get more comfortable about if not talking about it in in public, at least exploring their thoughts about it with coke notes and stuff, which we’ll get into. But it feels like to me whether it’s mental health or all other kinds of issues, the longer we wait to talk about it to anybody. The harder it becomes, it’s it’s almost it seems like it’d be easy, but it’s like, the harder it becomes because you’ve held it a secret for so long that now if you say it, it’s almost like a betrayal. Kind of. I don’t know. Does that resonate with you? You feel that way? Or?


Johnny Crowder  28:41

Yeah, I always compare mental health to dental health, not just because it rhymes, but because it’s a great analogy as a whole in many ways. But one thing I’ll say is, imagine not brushing your teeth for 10 years. Do you have any idea how freakin hard you would have to brush those teeth in order to get the plaque off? Each day. There’s a little bit of plaque that gets on there from eating just from daily life, right. And if you spend two minutes in the morning and two minutes at night, like point zero 5% of your entire day, brushing off the plaque, you will most likely have a pretty good set of teeth. But if you go well I’ll brush my teeth tomorrow I’ll brush my teeth next week or next month or next year. The likelihood of you having extreme borderline irreversible damage to those teeth gets higher and higher every day. So my encouragement to people is not necessarily you don’t need to go to the dentist every day. But brush those things every day.


Mike Malatesta  29:44

And that hope now that you say that. And I read a little bit about coconuts. That’s kind of what it is. It’s brushing your teeth. Yeah, every day. Well, before I go there, I just want to make sure that I understand a little bit better. This music Are of yours because I have several questions one, and I’m sure you’ve been in several bands of probably along along the way. From the, I don’t know, when did you start when you were in middle school or


Johnny Crowder  30:13

I was actually 16 When I played my first concert. So I started playing guitar when I was eight. And I played my first concert when I was 16.


Mike Malatesta  30:21

Okay, and if I remember from your story as well, when you play that concert, it was, you know, you weren’t an eye contact person at the time. So you were so you’re like the lead singer, and you’re staring at this. That’s


Johnny Crowder  30:33

exactly the stage right is this I really gotta remember the shoes I wore. Because I was staring at my shoes the entire time. I did not look out once at the audience.


Mike Malatesta  30:45

So the people that you surrounded yourself with the other musicians, your friends, your buddies, or whomever, however, this came together, what would you? Was it a band of brothers sort of thing where you were all sort of had these? You all everyone has different experiences? So I’m not trying to lump everybody together. But were you? Was it sort of a band of brothers when it comes when it came to, hey, we’re all dealing with these different things, or was it? Like, what was it like?


Johnny Crowder  31:15

I wanted it to be that. Okay, that was something that I was looking for. And what I did was join a band that needed a vocalist. And in fact, I didn’t want to be a vocalist at all. This is so funny. I never talked about this. I never planned to be a vocalist ever. I had played guitar since I was eight. I wanted to be a guitarist, but this band already had two guitarists. And they said, Do you want to be the vocalist? And I literally said, I don’t sing. But I will go and audition anyway. And it dude, when I tell you it was bad. It was bad. Like, I could not cut it. And then they said yes, for whatever reason, maybe nobody else wanted to join or whatever.


Mike Malatesta  32:00

So you’re like, so you’re like, oh, that sucked. And they’re like, Oh, yes, Johnny, you’re good man.


Johnny Crowder  32:05

When I left thinking that I just completely blanked. It was so bad. Check this out. This is so embarrassing, but it’s true. It was so bad. So at the time, I really didn’t know how to sing. And I had it in my head that if I thought my voice sounded good in the shower. And so because that’s where I did most of my singing. That’s where everybody doesn’t everybody starts right? Yeah. So what I did, I’m not joking. When my voice sounded so bad when we were playing together. This is my first time meeting all these people by the way. My voice was so bad that I asked them. I had it in my head. Oh, I wonder if there’s something about the humidity in a shower. That makes my throat sound more full. So I’m not joking. There was the rehearsal room and there was a bathroom with a shower. I asked them if I could shower. I just met these people. And I got into the shower and tried to get my voice more I don’t know, in shape or whatever. And then came out and tried to sing it was still bad. I literally showered at the stranger’s house, borrowed a towel and everything. And I left and I thought that was the most catastrophic failure that I’ve ever experienced. I’ll never be in a band as long as I live, why won’t they just let me be the guitarist? And then they called me and said, Do you want to join? I said, You got it. And now like 15 years later, we like I’m in we charted on Billboard, and I’ve toured us on my favorite bands in the world, like, all because they gave me a chance Lord knows right.


Mike Malatesta  33:39

Huh? And did you were you singing a song that you knew? Or were you singing one of their songs Academy?


Johnny Crowder  33:44

I was literally you want to make it even worse, dude, I was literally going like I was ad libbing vocals to a song that they were playing. So I was literally making up lyrics. You can’t. This is the epitome of like a 16 year old trying to join a band reminds me a real song.


Mike Malatesta  34:05

It reminds me of those stories you hear about Eminem and some of the other rappers to where they have those contests and they just put a beat down and they start. They start, you know, challenging each other was that? Yeah, that is so amazing. So how do you this sorry, this is a nerdy question. But you’ve got this sort of very low key voice and but when you sing it’s like something way, way different. You might not be able to explain it, but how do you how do you do that? And then come back and you know, speak like you do?


Johnny Crowder  34:43

So the I have a joke and then a real answer. So the joke that I always say is if I sounded off stage, like I do on stage, I would get arrested. No one would pay attention. Yeah. Just going around screaming and growling. Yeah. But then In the real answer is I never I wanted vocal lessons, but I was never able to get one. So what I did was, I kept listening to artists that I loved songs that I loved and wanted to be able to sing, I would try to sing them in my room. And I would try to sound as much like that vocalist as possible. And if it hurt my voice, then I would change it, I would try to do it in a different way so that it didn’t hurt my voice. And while I don’t recommend trying to sound like other people for your whole career, I do recommend that if you’ve never tried singing before, that you pick a few of your favorite vocalists, you pick some songs that you love, and wouldn’t mind hearing 40 times a week as you’re rehearsing them. And then you try your best to match the pitch and tone. And then after you develop those basics, you can form your own voice and style. But in the early days, it was about can I try to replicate the voice of my favorite vocalist. And it was so bad that I’m not joking. My mom told me she actually told me this, like, I sent her one of our new songs that has clean singing in it, like more melodic stuff. And she said, I can’t believe that’s you. Because when you were younger, I used to, she didn’t say it in a mean way. She said I would hear you from your room. And I would joke with your girlfriend about how bad of a singer you were. Oh. And I was like, well, you’re my mom, you’re supposed to say I’m good at singing No matter what it sounds like. But it was a very slow process. What was important to me is just making sure that I didn’t injure my throat as I was teaching myself how to do it.


Mike Malatesta  36:40

And how long did it take before you felt like I don’t, before you felt different than you felt in that initial interview.


Johnny Crowder  36:50

So screaming, I felt more confident inside of a year or two, that was something that I really started to gain a decent level of mastery at. And clean singing has taken me a lot even now I’m still actively learning like watching vocal videos. And when we record our new songs that have a lot of clean singing, I’m very particular going back and listening to myself and seeing what I can improve. So I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I’ve like I’ve arrived as a as a vocalist, but I do think that I have enough confidence now to where you can put me on any stage with any of our songs. And I know that I’ll do a good job just by virtue of years and years of rehearsing.


Mike Malatesta  37:33

And, and you mentioned I’m going to move now to thanks for sharing that, by the way. i i That might have been a little bit of a nerdy question, but I was just curious about it. Because I because I am a I’m a shower singer as well. Oh, I just come out there and say that I am a shower. Yeah, buddy. And, you know, in there, I’m pretty good. Pretty good. Oh, yeah.


Johnny Crowder  37:59

The acoustics are great. Yeah, it’s,


Mike Malatesta  38:01

it’s, it’s amazing. I’m amazingly good, actually. And then, you know, I met a baseball game or something. And I tried to give the national anthem, a chai, and it’s just not the same. Maybe I different. To bring a shower with me all the time,


Johnny Crowder  38:17

or just kindly asked the Marlins to let you borrow their team shower.


Mike Malatesta  38:22

Yeah, there you go. Okay, that’s a good strategy. I’m going to write one. I’m gonna write that one down. So you mentioned tech entrepreneur. And I’ve mentioned coke notes a couple of times, let’s, let’s move there. So what what? You know, I don’t want to ask you what Koch notes is, I want to ask you where Koch notes came from, where to come from? And why. Like, I’ve started two companies, not not not a tech company, but two companies, and I have some pretty good understanding of what it tastes Do you that energy, money, patients, you know, all kinds of things. And then you’ve got this career as a musician. I mean, what, what, what made you what made you want to do that.


Johnny Crowder  39:09

So I’m always very clear, just like I’m kind of an accidental vocalist. Like I never planned on being a vocalist. And now it’s a very big part of my life. I will also say that I never plan on being an entrepreneur. So really, what I was interested in is there were two things that I fell in love with that I wanted to combine. So the first is when I was in school and learning about positive psychology and neuroplasticity. Basically, what you put into your brain and how you put it into your brain can change the way your brain processes information. I was fascinated by that. Like you can you I could literally be a different person a year from now. Because of what I put into my brain and how I put it in there. That’s my I could literally change my personality. I had no idea that people were so malleable, so I fell in love with it. Positive Psychology and neuroplasticity when I actually I don’t know if I mentioned this, but I did go to college to major in psychology. So this is what I was studying. And so I loved positive psychology and neuroscience, but I also frickin loved peer support, which is, basically, if I live with depression, and I’m speaking to you, and you also live with depression, we are engaged, we are peers in that we have a shared lived experience. And that’s something that really helped me not feel alone and helped me feel understood. So I was like, Man, I wonder if I could take peer support, like that human element of peer support, but then combine it with this sort of slow and steady, neuroplasticity and positive psychology approach where it’s not one big thing once a month or once a week, but it’s, it’s maybe one or two tiny things here and there over time, that create the biggest change. So I wanted to combine those things, I had no idea how. So I literally got a Google Voice number attached to my personal cell phone. This was 2017. And I wrote out a Google Sheets worth of text messages that I thought would be helpful for people to receive, like psychology facts, or journaling prompts or exercises, and I started sending them to people, unsolicited. And that’s how it started was me literally typing messages and then pasting them into a Google Voice number and sending them to people. It was it was a very, I had no idea it would ever be a company ever.


Mike Malatesta  41:37

And you were doing that just because that was a way of giving back of helping people in a way that you felt you could help them. Is that fair?


Johnny Crowder  41:46

Yeah. So I was basically texting people what I wish people would say to me, so support or encouragement or providing perspective or asking a difficult question. And it was originally, like, there was no price associated. There was no formal signup process. It was it was very sort of scrappy, and unruly. But the messages that I received back were like, Whoa, this was so impactful, or this made such a big difference for me. And I was like, Whoa, maybe I should formalize this a little bit. So it’s not like I made it a company right then. But I started investing more thought into how I might scale it.


Mike Malatesta  42:26

And when you were sending these out, were you sending them to friends? Or were you? I know, you done a lot of copywriting and SEO work and in your past as well. How are you getting? How are you getting the word out to people who you could add to disk to your list or whatever?


Johnny Crowder  42:44

I was literally, I know I keep saying literally, but because it’s because I’m giving you the real version. I’m not giving you the the Forbes version that is supposed to make myself look really put together. This is the real, actual 100% true version of how it worked. I would I’ve made, I printed out these little flyers that I would pass out at gas stations. And I don’t don’t ask me why gas stations, I did gas stations, malls and college campuses passing out I had a clipboard where I would ask people for their phone number. And then when I was touring with my band, I would have a little card on the table with a website on it. And I would encourage people to go to the website and look at it and if they felt like they wanted to try it to type in their phone number and sign up. So it was the most grassroots I mean, I must have spent like 6500 hours, but probably a total of like 65 USD on it. It was like the cheapest but most time intensive effort intensive method of getting it launched. So true Guerilla


Mike Malatesta  43:54



Johnny Crowder  43:56

I know and and funny that you’re at a gas station because fire remember you wouldn’t touch gas pumps for correct that’s, that’s correct. But yeah, people are right. If you’re on tour, that’s one of the only places you stop these gas stations. Yeah. So you drive for hours, probably then you stop and get gas you drive another four hours stopping at gas. So every time we get out I had little stack of these prints. And I printed them at I used to work at an ad agency and I would like go into their copy room and like print flyers and stuff. I actually still have one I found it in my memory book.


Mike Malatesta  44:29

And when your memory book what is that?


Johnny Crowder  44:33

I have a it’s actually not a book. It’s it’s more of a box now because I have things that are not flat that basically so I live with memory loss from taking antipsychotic medication for a long period of time. So I journal constantly, I write a lot of stuff down I document a lot of stuff. I take a lot of photos, and that helps me remember these things. And I have a box I have every single year I go through it on New Year’s, either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. And I get rid of things that unfortunately, I’ve completely forgotten. So I pick up something in my memory book and I’m like, I just have no context as to what this is from it sparks nothing for me. I guess I completely forgot it. And I actually throw that away to make room for things this coming year. And then if I pull something out that causes a positive association sighs see it? And I’m like, Oh, wow, I remember this, how cool, then I’ll keep it in if I pull something out. And it doesn’t evoke a particularly positive response. So I’m like, yeah, that relationship with that person has changed, or, This doesn’t seem like as big of a deal to me as it used to, then I will also toss that. So it’s a pretty small box, but I keep it as kind of a reminder of, it’s not huge, significant things, too. There’s like a, an Oscar Mayer wiener dog whistle thing that I got at a beach like seven years ago. It’s not like life changing stuff. It’s just these little trinkets that bring me a lot of joy.


Mike Malatesta  46:07

And is, is that something you do on your own? Or do you have someone with you just sort of talk through, like, oh, because sometimes people can help you like, oh, yeah, I was one.


Johnny Crowder  46:18

But that’d be that would be helpful, because I’m sure I’ve thrown away things that people are like, how could you throw that away? That was from when you met, whoever and I’m like, Oh, wow, I completely forgot that that ever happened.


Mike Malatesta  46:28

Memory backs. That’s cool idea. So when does this Google Sheets become coke notes? And how did you so you’re looking here guerilla marketing, you’re doing everything? You know, just really? Grit, I guess, right? Entrepreneurial grit, like, Yeah, well, you didn’t even know it was a business. You’re just trying to get something out there. You get good feedback. And all of a sudden, it’s like, well, maybe this is something that I should make bigger, figure out a way to make bigger.


Johnny Crowder  46:57

Yeah, so when I made it its own thing. So when I started sending these messages, it was part of something I was running called nada therapist, which was a volunteer project, it was like a, an online peer support. Resource, it was name, your price, everyone named the price $0. So I could never hire anybody. And I was slaving away over I was working. Probably I was working 50 ish hours a week at the agency. And that was working at least 40, or not a therapist at least 40 hours a week, if not more. So I was. And then I was touring. Keep in mind, I was touring full time. So I was just run ragged. And I was trying to think of a way that I could scale not a therapist. And so I introduced these text messages as a feature inside of not a therapist, that then I met with a nonprofit lawyer. So I was on top of all that I was also volunteering with non like behavioral health nonprofits at the time. And so I went to some of the nonprofit lawyers that I was volunteering with and said, Hey, I want to formalize this and make it like a 501 C three, and I explained to them the idea and then I met with a mentor and was trying to give shape to it. And slowly we whittled away all of these features of not a therapist, like there was going to be a merchandise line and video blog series and Journal of Physical journaling book and we slowly one by one picked off all these things until we focused on one feature that we thought could help the most people the soonest, which was the text message feature, that I decided to make it its own thing that was called cope notes. And then the nonprofit leaders recommended that I make it an LLC, rather than a nonprofit, because if you are a, they’re like, basically the reason why you don’t see a lot of tech nonprofits is because in tech, you have to be nimble and quick and agile, you need to be able to make changes on the fly, and improvements on a regular basis. And they said if you’re sending people text messages every day, you do not want to wait through board meetings and submitting minutes to IRS to make changes. You need to make changes today so that the message they received tomorrow is better. So I made it now I’ll see in February of 2018.


Mike Malatesta  49:16

Okay, and what is it becomes since then, I mean, in the bio, we talked about over 100 countries, it’s it feels like the world was like this is what we’ve been waiting for.


Johnny Crowder  49:30

Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty, it’s pretty wild. So we have an Steven still It blows my mind if you can’t tell. Yeah, we serve 10s of 1000s of people all over the world. We’re about to send our 2,000,000th text message that’s going to happen here in a couple of weeks, which will be just a monumental achievement. Sure. Yeah. And we’ve we’ve literally changed and saved people’s lives like people are still alive today? Because of a text message? Are you kidding me like we have, we have partnerships with probably 140 different nonprofits and school districts and government like city and county governments and employee wellness programs like we serve all over the place. And I have to be honest with you and say that when I was writing those first text messages, I was not that, you know, traditional young tech CEO, that’s like, yeah, one day this will rule the world, I was not thinking that at all. I was thinking, how can I send this to a few people so they can feel a little bit better? I was not dreaming big from day one, I had to learn to dream big as it scaled, which was its own challenge.


Mike Malatesta  50:46

And where, you know, we’re about to millions text message in a couple of weeks, you said, is it a one way thing? Like, I know, it’s a two way thing and that the message goes out? And then the person gets the message can respond to the message or not? I guess they can. But the purpose as I understand it, or one of the purposes is to build a habit out of communicating about, you know, really exploring whatever it is that the text message asks you to explore. And I think that’s sort of a healthy way to I think you you’ve talked about neuroplasticity, I mean, you’re really trying to build I guess, synapses I’ve heard you. Oh, yeah, right, you’re trying to be you. So it’s engagement, but it’s not like someone’s reading them and saying, and giving advice or anything? Or is it just I want to make sure that people know exactly what it is.


Johnny Crowder  51:39

Yeah, it before I share this, if anyone wants more information about why we don’t respond in real time, you can go to cope EP rep that’s short for reply. And you can read, it’s a section on our FAQ page that explains why it’s actually healthier for your brain that we don’t respond in real time. And basically, I’ll keep this short and sweet. Let’s say I’m sharing something with you, Mike. And I see, you know, you put your hand up near your face, or your eyebrows move or something or you nod that all of those communicate information to me, then subconsciously change how I share to you. So if I see you’re disinterested, or if I see if I interpret your behavior to be judging me, I might change or cover up what I feel. This is something called Emotional dependence. And it means that I’m dependent on you. So those cues that you give me now alter how I share I’m dependent on those cues. And so, this happens a lot in therapy settings and care setting. So the reason why every therapist in the world will tell you to journal is because your journal does not give you a cookie, it does not slap you on the wrist, it doesn’t interrupt you or judge you or make you rethink No, no, it’s just there. The act of sharing without positive or negative consequence, builds emotional intelligence and builds emotional independence. It builds all of these really important things for you to take good care of yourself. So we’re very clear with people and we say, Listen, the reason why coke notes is so I’m not supposed to say it, but so freakin cheap. The reason why it is 10 times less or more than a therapy session is because it is for you. We don’t have a clinician on the other end who’s chatting with you in real time. And we actually have great science behind why we don’t do that.


Mike Malatesta  53:40

So somebody wants to to experience this, they go to cope There’s a free trial I think I saw it’s like it is super cheap, less than $10 a month something like that around that. And is it every day a text message comes at some time. It’s not like regularly scheduled. Right, there’s science behind that as well.


Johnny Crowder  54:05

Yeah, so not only do you never know when we will text you or what the text will say. But you also know that when we text you you’re the only person in the world to receive that text message at that time. So if let’s say my way you and I both sign up, let’s say 100 of your your listeners of this episode sign up right now. No two people will ever get the same text at the same time so I don’t know what you get you don’t know what I get. It’s this very everyone has their own unique tech sequence with coconuts.


Mike Malatesta  54:39

And as I was listening to you and this is probably stupid, but I thought about the bodybuilding. Because this is something you can do on your own something that you can control you know you get it you you can control your response whether you respond whatever but you can control


Johnny Crowder  54:58

when It comes in or what it says. And that lack of control is really important.


Mike Malatesta  55:04

Got it? Okay. Well, Johnny, that’s a great place to end. I think I just been really cool getting to know you, I appreciate you sharing and getting into some things that maybe you hadn’t in the same way before. And this journey, I know, it’s been painful. But it seems, and I guess everybody’s life is painful in some way or another. But it seems like you know, you going through the pain, and I know a lot of others go through it as to but it’s really come to a point where you’ve discovered a way to take everything that you’ve experienced and help people experience less of it, or maybe not experience it, maybe miss it. And just help. So many people by first having said something when you were 19, like first having talked about it,


Johnny Crowder  56:00

yeah, I want to say to anyone listening, I am not unique in that regard. So you The fact is, I’m speaking to you now, as a listener, you’ve been through something that I have not been through, that gives you a license, that pain is your license to speak into the lives of other people who have experienced that, and they would listen to you before they would ever listen to me. So for example, if I walk into a room, and I’m covered in tattoos, I’m wearing a pair of Jordans. And I talk about my severe, severe, debilitating mental illness experiences. I will earn credibility with people who connect with that, who had a similar life experience and for you, if you’ve lost a child, and I have not, and I try to console somebody who’s lost a child, my word will not hold the same weight as yours. So please use it. It’s yours. It’s your license, whether or not you use it. And in a weird way, I know this is gonna sound strange, but in a weird way, you’ve had to pay for that license with your payment. So you’ve already spent, you’ve already spent you’ve already paid for it. You’ve paid the expense. So now put, put it to good use.


Mike Malatesta  57:18

Yeah. You’ve made the investment, put it to good use, right. Pay it forward. John, Johnny, thank you so much for being on the show. Is there anything else you I forgot to ask you or you want to leave people with that before? Before we sign off here? Yeah, I will


Johnny Crowder  57:37

say that. There are probably people listening right now who think Well, that’s great that that guy does mental health stuff, but I’m fine. The last thing I want to say is, that is the equivalent bringing it back to dental health. That’s just like saying, Oh, I get that my doctor gave me a toothbrush. But I’m not going to brush my teeth because I don’t have any cavities. It literally doesn’t make any sense. So if you feel fine, that’s great. Still try coke notes for free. If you think well my son or daughter needs it or my spouse needs it or my colleague needs it. But certainly, Surely not. I surely not I give it a try for free. Yes, we have gifts, subscriptions and families subscriptions, you can get subscriptions for those people. But my encouragement to you is I’m literally trying to give you something for free. Try it for If you don’t like it, you will never have to pay for it, you will never have to use it again. You could even write me an email about how you didn’t like it. But in all likelihood, one of these messages will resonate with you and cause a positive impact. So please don’t rule yourself out. Don’t exclude yourself because of some weird pride that I have felt in my life in the past when people offered me help. And I’d say Nah, I’m good. Right? Let me tell you something. You may be good, but you’re not perfect. And that gap between good and perfect is what coconuts can


Mike Malatesta  59:03

help you with. Well, you were just talking to me. It’s so weird. Is I was thinking to myself, Well yeah, maybe I get this for so and so if so and so and then as but not me, right? Oh, yeah, certainly not myself. Yeah, of course not. Right. But you’ve just you’ve just sold me I’m going to get the free trial. I’m gonna do it for myself before I talk to anybody else about it, which will be done long before this podcast comes out. Because yeah, I need to you know, if I’m gonna pass this along, I need to have my own credibility linked to the value of that, that I see in it. Such a great, great, thank you for leaving us with that. Totally. Alright, Johnny, thank you. I love the work that you’re doing. Thank you for doing it. Good luck with your band. Good luck with hope notes. Not that you need it for either one and I will take it keep Keep singing in the shower and I will as well Amen

Alexi Cortopassi

Alexi Cortopassi

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I help entrepreneurs get unstuck, take back their power, achieve their life objectives, and create the futures they want.

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