Todd Agnew: The Making of an Artist
- Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Growing up in his small Texas hometown, Todd Agnew had three true loves: worship, music and camp. Of course, at the time, this early fan of Michael W. Smith, WhiteHeart and DeGarmo & Key didn’t know how these interests would figure into the rest of his life. But when he was 18 and offered the opportunity to lead three worship songs for a Bible study, his future direction became a little more clear – even if he describes his first stab at worship leading as “terrible.”
“So I practiced my songs; I was so excited,” Todd remembers,” But when I went in there and did it, it was horrible. After I was done, I told the Lord, ‘I am so sorry. This is obviously not what you want me to do; I’ll never do this again.’”
But despite how bad Todd thought he performed that particular night, God apparently had other ideas. And like it or not, they still included worship leading.
The Summer of ’89
Like any craft, whether writing, playing guitar or even pottery, it’s good to have mentors to show you a few tricks of the trade. And under the tutelage of several worship leaders, Todd began to get more comfortable in front of a church crowd. “I just fell in love with it,” he says. But love usually isn’t enough to make a career out of something, so Todd started considering the logistics. Namely, how could he get enough worship-leading gigs to make a living?
So, as many have done before, Todd struck a deal with God: Any door that He opened, he promised he would walk through. And a year later Todd landed his first break: leading worship for youth groups across the country.
During a visit to a particular church in Shawnee, Okla., the pastor pulled Todd aside after the service and asked if there was any way he could lead worship at their summer camp. While it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime for an outdoors enthusiast like himself, Todd’s practical side kicked in. Knowing he had to work to pay for school, he politely turned down the offer. But the pastor just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. And with a little networking and a few phone calls, it wasn’t long before he had shows booked for Todd for the entirety of the summer.
Now, 16 years after that breakthrough experience, Todd may be a more seasoned worship leader with a record deal, but there’s still no place like camp for the naturally shy singer. In fact, the great outdoors is still one of Todd’s favorite venues and somewhere he continues to play each year.
Spotlight? No Thanks.
But wait a minute, how did Todd score a record deal while playing the summer camp circuit? Unlike the majority of musicians, he was more than a little reluctant to sign on the dotted line. It just wasn’t his style to be in the spotlight, and frankly, he liked things the way they were. Without the pressure of a contract, he had the freedom to play where he wanted, whether it was camp, a coffeehouse, the Hard Rock Café or even the occasional bar, in hopes of sharing the message of the gospel with those who needed to hear it most.
So when a record deal was unexpectedly presented to him, he immediately declined. But it wasn’t long before he remembered that bargain he made to “walk through any door that was opened for him.”
“It wasn’t something I was pursuing. When we went in to make the first record ["Grace Like Rain"], I definitely went in purposefully – thinking we were going to sell it at youth camp,” Todd says. “I recorded it independently, and [Ardent Records] just picked it up and released it. It was just the songs we were doing in worship right then. It wasn’t this great plan to get signed or any of that.”
Plan or not, there was no denying the album’s impact in the Christian music industry, as the CD sold well over 180,000 copies and earned Todd his first Dove Award nominations for Best Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year along with Best Rock Contemporary Song for “This Fragile Breath (The Thunder Song)”.
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