Ryan Corn

Pop music is well known for its formula. Major key, around 120 beats per minute, less than five minutes long, great hook, fun to dance to. For decades, singers have scored big hits by following the formula. People have smiled, and danced, and gotten songs stuck in their heads for days on end. The trouble is, there’s a problem with the formula. It lacks heart.

On the other hand, there’s the singer-songwriter, making music full of depth and emotion but lacking accessibility and, well, a beat.

Curb Records artist Ryan Corn is making music that hits on every level. It’s infectious, brimming with hooks and style. Corn is also a producer, so he knows how to craft songs that bend genres and eras to full effect. It’s also bright and breezy at times and musically edgy at others. Most of all, though, it has a heart undergirding the formula. It’s a reflection of the soul of an artist whose desire is not just to get a song stuck in someone’s head, but to get it stuck in their heart, too.

Corn is a Missouri native with musical roots. As a child, he learned harmony by singing with his grandmother in church. As a teenager, the lure of the electric guitar hooked him, and he found himself in a couple of bands, writing songs and touring in a beat-up RV. Along the way, he began to develop his own musical identity.

“My bands were getting heavier and heavier,” Corn recalls. “I was playing a lot of drop-D electric guitar, and I was like, this isn’t me. I traded my half stack Marshall amp for an acoustic guitar, and finally felt in my element. I started writing more and more songs that felt like my natural voice.”

He also learned audio engineering, and then producing, and by deconstructing and reconstructing songs Corn developed the unique sense of throwback rhythm that infuses his songs today. A record deal with Curb followed, and in 2014 he debuted his first songs for the label. “Wonderful Things” found success, charting at Billboard and garnering 3.8 million listens on Spotify. It’s a good example of his artistic sensibilities, combining honesty, a relaxed and engaging vocal, and a bit of quirkiness in the form of trumpets, gang vocals, and Mellotron flutes.

Corn soon began to realize that his songs were resonating with listeners in often profound ways. “People like the heart behind the songs,” he says. “They’re feeling what I felt when I was writing the songs in the first place. It wasn’t just that the song had a groove, or it was catchy, but something resonated with them internally.”

That connection with audiences saw Corn hitting the road, this time to more well-known venues than his early days: New York (Rockwood Music Hall) , LA (Hotel Cafe, Room 5), Live in The Vineyard, and at multiple venues at SXSW. He has also connected with some of the industry’s finest as he crafts and self-produces new music. Grammy winner Vance Powell (Chris Stapleton, White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys) is mixing Corn’s tunes, and Nashville’s Ben Shive (Colony House, The Gray Havens) is lending his own brilliant production ear to Corn’s captivating vocals.

The results of these collaborations, and of a season in life that’s seen Corn get married and move to Nashville, are new songs that are the best of his career. “Every Day” is an autobiographical love story, and it’s sweet summer sunshine set to music. (And yes, Corn really did fall head-over-heels in love just as quickly as the song suggests.)

Speaking of relationships, “Less of Me” unveils an ironic secret to success for couples. Corn speaks of the truth described in the song: “Something’s better when you don’t always get your way, when you’re more concerned about someone else’s happiness.”

The same notion of selflessness is told with disarming emotion in “The Pressure”. Over a lilting piano and percussive finger snaps are words so commonly uttered in failing relationships: “You say that this feels wrong, that you maybe should be leaving.” The understated chorus acknowledges the struggle: “If we don’t feel the pressure, we’re kidding ourselves.” But this is no ordinary breakup song. By the end of the chorus, we learn of a surprising and uncommon response: “I’m gonna love you while you work it out.” Corn relates the sort of commitment the song conveys: “The easiest thing to do is to be offended. What if, instead, we said, ‘I know you’re in a place that’s unstable. I’ll be your stability. Go and sort things out. Answer the questions you need to answer. Run if you have to run. I will still love you.’”

Corn’s versatility shines on “Enemy”. The artist notes the new sound: “I don’t write too many dark songs. Most are either sad or happy, but not dark or aggressive. This one is a bit haunting and mysterious.” Corn shows off a falsetto, and even recalls his early days when a reverberating electric guitar joins the mix.

Maybe the pop formula is tried-and-true. But it’s the rare song – and songwriter – who can use rhythm and rhyme to move the listener, to connect with audiences in a way that transcends simple music and lyrics. Ryan Corn is that artist. He’s rewriting the formula, infusing his heart into his music, and he just might make you get up and dance.