Rodney Atkins

There’s no definitive way to build a career, and for every artist that hits it big early on, there are dozens more waiting in the wings. But sometimes, it’s worth the wait.

As is the case with Rodney Atkins.

He was recently awarded the Academy of Country Music’s top new male vocalist award – placing him among a list of past honorees that’s a virtual who’s who of country music. Thing is, he signed with Curb Records nearly 10 years ago.

Atkins told Pollstar that winning the award really validated all the support he’s gotten over the years.

“So many people like my family and the record label and my producer and a lot of folks had believed in you for a long time … and when you win an award like that it’s one of those moments that really gives credibility to their belief in you,” he said.

Atkins knows what a long time feels like. He spent years in a state of career limbo, receiving critical acclaim for his style of Southern storytelling and scoring a hit with his single “Honesty” in 2004 when the song reached No. 4 on the charts. But he never quite broke through.

When Greg Hill and Jennifer Poppe of Red Light Management first had a sit-down with the singer about three years ago, Atkins was in flux having recently left both his previous manager and agent. It was time for him to release another album and decide which direction to take for the future.

Poppe told Pollstar discussions focused on what had and hadn’t worked for the singer’s career.

“When we met Rodney, he’d wear jeans and a T-shirt and a ball cap,” Poppe said, but, “all the images I had looked at prior to that, from the last album, he was wearing leather pants and a cowboy hat.”

They took a cue from that hit single and went with honesty.

“It’s just very much about who he is and what he values,” Poppe explained. “He’s not two different people. He’s not Rodney the artist, or Rodney the dad or the husband, he’s very much the same person in all those situations.”

And following his most recent release, If You’re Going Through Hell, things began to take off for the self-proclaimed family man.

After spending “maybe five days” on the road in 2005, Atkins hardly left it in 2006, doing radio promotions and supports for artists including Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Sugarland, among others.

Rodney Atkins

“I think I was probably on the road 250 days the next year and that’s a pretty drastic difference in your life,” he said.

It’s a difference he isn’t taking lightly.

Since Atkins stuck it out for so long, he’ll make the most of this upswing in his career, Poppe explained.

“He had 10 years to get to this point,” she said. “He just doesn’t take this for granted. He knows the opportunities that he’s had and that he has in front of him right now.”

But making the most of those opportunities doesn’t necessarily mean Atkins will be out 200 days a year. Atkin’s agent, Marc Dennis at Creative Artists Agency, knows that keeping the balance between work and family is important to the singer, who often brings his wife and son on the road with him.

“We’re just really cognizant of his off time – when he needs breaks, when he needs to be home with the family,” Dennis told Pollstar. “You’re never going to see him leave home and not come back for three months.” In the long run, Dennis said he thinks that strategy will pay off for Atkins because “he’s never going to overtour.”

Atkins recently wrapped up an opening slot on Martina McBride’s “Waking Up Laughing” tour, and said being out for his first time with McBride was a blessing because he’s learned that it can work for a family on the road.

McBride and her husband “really demonstrated that you can keep your family involved … they make it family friendly, so that’s been my goal, to maintain that,” he said.

Atkins will headline fairs and festivals through the summer and open for Brad Paisley’s “Bonfires and Amplifiers” tour beginning in September through the end of the year. He said he’s nearly halfway finished on his next album, which is set to come out in the first half of 2008.

While it may have taken the singer a while to reach this point in his career, he’s just happy he’s backed by a team that really understands what he stands for.

Poppe echoed those sentiments.

“This has been about building something that works for his family and that works for him to have his career,” she said. “We’ve always said, this does not have to be mutually exclusive. This can work for everybody.”