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There is no formula for creating an overnight success; no equation that will always yield an instant hit. Nor is there a manual for melding an irresistible, hook-laden melody with heartfelt lyrical honesty. Anyone trying to write a book on the subject, though, would do well take notes from Aaron Shust, 2006's stand-out new artist from Atlanta-based label Brash Music.
Worship leader Aaron Shust began his zip line to the top of the charts late last year with the release of his debut project, Anything Worth Saying. First among the album's strong collection of songs was "Matchless," a contagiously catchy Christian Music single that immediately hit Top 10. Having captured the attention of radio programmers and listeners around the country, Shust brought his anthemic smash hit to the plate, "My Savior, My God." The song rose to the top of numerous radio and sales charts simultaneously this year, including R&R (Christian AC Monitor and Indicator), CRW (AC Radio) and Billboard (Hot Christian and Hot Christian Adult), and remained the #1 most downloaded Inspirational song on iTunes for months on end. Add that to five national tours and more than 85,000 albums sold in less than eight months, and you'll find that Shust is now arguably the most successful new Christian artist of 2006.
Not everyone was on Shust's bandwagon when it first started rolling, but that didn't stop the visionary leaders at Brash Music from calling a hit when they saw one. The mainstream independent record label, created under the leadership of former Mindspring president and COO Mike McQuary, already had a coveted, hard-earned reputation for great music. When they came across Shust's exceptional songwriting and tremendous heart, the label took a crash course in Christian music and fearlessly jumped in the deep end of an unfamiliar genre.
Brash found the total package in Shust. The Pittsburgh native had been a life-long musician, picking up both piano and guitar as a child before going on to study music theory at Toccoa Falls College. There he developed his songwriting into a serious craft and developed influences from The Beatles to Michael W. Smith to U2 while honing his stage skills around campus and at churches and coffee shops.
Shust has been investing his talents in the church for years, serving for the last five as a full-time staff member and worship leader at Perimeter Church, a progressive, 27-year-old congregation in Atlanta. Beyond that community, Aaron leads worship throughout the United States at new churches, adult retreats and youth camps, placing his songwriting fingers firmly on the pulse of the church's devotion.
"I feel closest to God whenever I'm leading people in worship," says Shust. "When I can step away from the microphone and a sea of people appear who are singing to God from the bottom of their hearts and at the top of their lungs, that's where I feel God's pleasure. I absolutely love that."
That sincerity of purpose and connection with the church are clearly evident on Anything Worth Saying. The project melds earnest lyricism and memorable pop hooks into a collection that is proving to be a goldmine for both worship leaders and radio programmers. Helping to bring the album's combination of pop sound and lyrical styling to life were producer Dan Hannon and mixologists Steve Bishir (Amy Grant, Chris Tomlin, Garth Brooks) and Dan Hannon, while Shust, a classically-trained musician, shows off his chops on acoustic guitar and piano.
Confident hope and passionate adoration color every song on Anything Worth Saying, which Shust describes concisely as "a conversation with God." Nowhere is that more evident than in the album's lyrical and musical centerpiece, "My Savior, My God," which addresses humanity's basic quest for meaning in a swelling and infectiously singable refrain. The longing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves is met, Shust sings, through an ever-present God who can rescue us from meaninglessness. The song ultimately gives way to a huge, irresistible chorus that pours out an unshakable proclamation of faith:
"My Savior loves / My Savior lives / My Savior's always there for me
My God: He was / My God: He is / My God is always gonna be"
Shust describes that connection to his listeners with humility. "There are words on my heart that God gives me and I put them to music because I love music. When I can put those things together and people embrace it, then I feel like I've birthed a song in the world."
He will deliver that enthusiasm to new fans around the country as he continues a string of national tours with several leading acts that so far has included Jeremy Camp, Casting Crowns, Compassion International's "An Evening of Compassion" Tour, and two different runs with Nichole Nordeman and Shane & Shane. Among his other appearance highlights are a performance at "Celebrate Freedom," a feature spot on TBS' "Storyline" television show, and a concert at "Faith Night with the Braves" in Atlanta. Shust will continue his successful tour schedule.
In just a few short months, Aaron Shust has generated the kind of momentum in Christian Music it takes most artists years to build, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Keep watching this one – the story's just begun.