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Life on the road

As the year ends, rocker and CEO Johnny Crowder's company thriving. He pines, however, to get back on the road with his band.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 5:40 p.m. December 30, 2021
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
FIle. AMBER JAMES: While his business is growing, heavy metal artist Johnny Crowder misses the stage and his people.
FIle. AMBER JAMES: While his business is growing, heavy metal artist Johnny Crowder misses the stage and his people.
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Johnny Crowder is a man used to living in two worlds. But as 2021 comes to a close and 2022 begins, those two worlds are going in different directions.

Crowder is the rock star and CEO (not to be confused with a rock star CEO) who’s running the Tampa-based tech startup Cope Notes while simultaneously maintaining his role as the lead singer of the heavy metal band Prison.

Crowder says the year is ending strong for the mental health support business, with a record number of users and two major contracts just signed. But the ramifications of COVID-19 continue to hinder the band, as uncertainty over restrictions and new variants impact's Prison’s ability to tour.

And that’s a problem for Crowder, who says performing, connecting with an audience, is a cure-all for him personally and way to reach audience members who are dealing with issues of their own and need the reassurance of the music and community.

'I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it is soul crushing. You think you are going to tour, then not. You think that shows are coming, and then they get canceled or rescheduled.' Johnny Crowder

“I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it is soul crushing,” Crowder says. “You think you are going to tour, then not. You think that shows are coming, and then they get canceled or rescheduled. Pretty much all you can do is write music and record. I really enjoy that, but it’s a different feeling, you know?”

Meanwhile, Cope Notes is thriving.

The company, which, like his career in music, grew out of Crowder’s own challenges dealing with mental health issues, is a text service that offers daily mental health support digitally. The company started about four years ago.

The service is not designed for a specific diagnoses or background. Rather, what the service does is use “cognitive restructuring and neuroplasticity techniques to help people form new neural pathways associated with positive thoughts.”

In layman’s terms, Cope Notes is based on peer support. The idea is that when people feel comfortable speaking to others or hearing from others who have gone through the same things they have, they’re less likely to feel like an outcast because there is some level of understanding.

What Cope Notes does is send text messages vetted by an oversight panel to subscribers. Rather than send one mass text to all subscribers each day, messages are sent out at random intervals and aren’t duplicated.

The company has a bank of messages so each subscriber can get an individualized message each day.

These messages can range from tips on how to improve your life to positive reinforcements. It’s all aimed at helping people change how they think.

The idea, according to the company’s website, is that “our brain is constantly rewiring itself based on what we see, read, hear and imagine. The more often we think a thought, the easier it is to think, the more likely we are to think it again, and so on. For better or worse, this is how habits are formed.”

Subscribers who need to speak with a crisis counselor can reply to the message with the word “help” and Cope Notes will connect them with help.

The company has sent more than 1.2 million texts and the number of subscribers has jumped 7.5% since July, to about 21,500. It has also signed contracts with a local county government as well as an insurance company. Cope Notes cannot disclose the county or the insurance company for contractual reasons, but Crowder calls the agreements, which have been in the works for some time, “the largest contracts we’ve signed. By far.” He expects that momentum to continue into 2022, and to see the number of subscribers to continue growing exponentially.

Crowder credits Cope Note’s success to the greater acceptance of conversations about personal mental health due in part to the pandemic and an increase in awareness.

He says athletes are talking openly about it; publications are more comfortable writing about it and readers are more comfortable reading about it; and governments and businesses are open to discussing it.

The topic, culturally, has become too important to ignore and Crowder can feel the conversation slowly changing, allowing Cope Notes to impact more people.

As for Prison, the band has released a new song in recent weeks — it's called Reality — and has played a couple of shows. But it’s the road, playing to mosh pits filled with like-minded metalheads, that will soothe what ails Crowder.

And it will allow him to do his best work — helping to heal others and himself.

“It’s been so hard for me not to perform,” he says. “Of course, I want to express myself, but it’s more about the feeling of intimacy. I’m in a room with hundreds of strangers, on the other side of the country, and we all feel intimately connected, like we’re all welcoming each other in this setting.

“I do feel that the loneliness and frustration that I’ve felt being home from tour is not just related to my career being halted. It’s related to not being with my people.”



In 2021, many companies discovered new ways to adjust to the pandemic. These nimble entrepreneurs believe that know-how — and guts — will be a key factor for continued success in 2022. Click the links below to read more about the Business Observer's 2021 newsmakers.



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