The Legacy Of Missy Higgins' 'The Sound Of White' & The Artists She Inspired

8 March 2024 | 4:15 pm | Steve Bell

It’s undeniable how much impact that 'The Sound Of White' has made on the Australian music scene in the two decades since it made Missy Higgins a household name.

Missy Higgins

Missy Higgins (Credit: Adrienne Overall/Supplied)

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As beloved Aussie singer-songwriter Missy Higgins embarks on a sold-out national tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of her groundbreaking debut album, The Sound Of White, it’s worth casting our eyes back over the album’s enduring legacy.

Though she’d only just turned 21 years old when her debut entered the ARIA Album Chart at #1 in September 2004, Higgins’ rise to fame had already been playing out in the public domain for a number of years.

She was still in high school in 2001 when her older sister Nicola famously entered Missy’s song All For Believing - which she’d written in a rush for a school music assignment - into triple j’s Unearthed competition for unsigned artists, the song duly winning and soon being broadcast on rotation around the country.

This was enough to spark interest from record labels and Higgins quickly signed with Eleven - then chiefly known for their work guiding Silverchair - mainly due to their empathy with the young singer’s desire to not be portrayed inauthentically to the wider world.

In order to better accrue life experience to feed into her songwriting, Eleven also encouraged her to take some time off to backpack around Europe - Higgins had been planning such an adventure with a close friend for ages - an enterprise which took up most of her 2002.

Unbeknownst to her, however, while she was traipsing around far-flung shores, more unexpected action was taking place on the other side of the Atlantic: LA radio station KCRW began spinning All For Believing, and the labels started circling for a second time. Without so much as putting her mind to it, by the time Higgins returned to Australia, she was the proud owner of an international recording deal with Warner Bros.

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All from that hurried school project (she did get an A).

Calm Before The Storm

Higgins’ first official release, The Missy Higgins EP - which included All For Believing plus three other songs recorded in Australia with The PresetsJulian Hamilton co-producing - didn’t gain much further traction upon its October 2003 release, peaking originally at #65 on the ARIA Singles Chart (although later re-entering and reaching #49 as her popularity flourished).

But in the meantime she’d enjoyed a stint in the US co-writing new tracks with some experienced songsmiths - including penning the catchily poignant Scar with Kevin Griffin from New Orleans alt-rockers Better Than Ezra - and then in early-2004 she returned to the States to record her debut in Nashville’s House Of Blues Studios with British producer John Porter (The Smiths, Billy Bragg, Ryan Adams).

According to the 2010 book, The 100 Best Australian Albums (O’Donnell, Creswell, Mathieson) - in which The Sound Of White ranked a more than respectable #86 - this decision to place Higgins with Porter in the studio was an astute one, the authors offering:

“Taking time to have some life experience was the key to make The Sound Of White a carefully nuanced pop record…

“Porter opted for a clean, bright sound that respects Higgins’ confessional songs without overwhelming them, or vice versa. He assembled a group of players to work through all the tracks together and create an ensemble feel rather than use note-perfect studio session men.

“It was the camaraderie and Porter’s calm and confident hand that helped Higgins relax in the studio.”

Whilst at the beginning of 2004 Higgins was still largely unknown outside of the triple j audience, by the time the Scar EP was released in August - the first single to drop from The Sound Of White having already received across-the-board radio support - it debuted at #1 on the ARIA Singles Chart (it would later win Higgins the 2004 ARIA for Best Pop Release, the 2005 APRA Award for Song Of The Year, acclaim Platinum accreditation and rank #2 on triple j’s Hottest 100 for 2004).

It was on.

Eye Of The Storm

The Sound Of White debuted at #1 upon its September release and stayed at the top of the album chart for two weeks - returning to the summit for five more weeks during 2005 (during which it was the highest-selling release in Australia for the year, including international acts) - remaining in the Top 50 for a total of 85 weeks.

With local sales in excess of 700,000 units, it’s been awarded Platinum accreditation 10 times over, and it ended up the second-highest-selling album by an Australian artist for the entire decade (behind only Delta Goodrem’s Innocent Eyes).

It spawned three more strong singles - Ten Days (#12), The Special Two (#2) and title track The Sound Of White (#22) - and prompted sold out national headlining tours, further organically expanding Higgins’ already burgeoning fanbase.

At the 2005 ARIA Awards Higgins would win five more statuettes, including Album Of The Year, Best Pop Release, Breakthrough Artist - Album and Highest Selling Album for The Sound Of White, as well as a second ARIA (Best Female Artist) for Scar.

Strangely, despite this rampant success, reviews for The Sound Of White were largely solid without being spectacular. In the Australian edition of Rolling Stone, Simon Wooldrige’s 3 1/2 star review offered,

“Considering this is distinctly, almost defiantly Aussie pop music, perhaps the title pertains to being a local artist up against a world of urban R&B. The pronounced Oz accent of former Triple J Unearthed winner Missy Higgins’ vocal style underlines her connection with the roots acoustics of The Waifs. The artists she supports - George, Pete Murray - give an indication of the territory Higgins straddles. But the backing reminds us that this sprightly indie-pop sound is, at this stage, her own. Production from John Porter maintains the raw feel of Higgins’ debut EP. Overall, this is lyrics-based music - and Higgins successfully delivers adorning patches of plain-spokeness and flashes of brilliance.”

But what critics weren’t picking up on was the connection that Higgins’ unaffected personality and down-to-earth nature was forging with her ravenous fanbase. Her decision to simply be herself and not indulge smoke and mirrors gave her both authenticity and an everyperson appeal. She told author Kelsey Munro in the Rolling Stone 2004/2005 Yearbook:

“I paid a lot of attention to the music industry, and I saw - especially with girls my age - how there’d be one single and then no one would hear from them again. I felt that I had more respect for myself than those girls did, and I had confidence in myself as a musician and a songwriter.

“I didn’t want that celebrity status, which seems to be more of a focus for those kinds of acts. I’ve watched my brother as a musician for years and I really admire him, and there was nothing superficial about him, there was just this really deep love for music - and that’s how I saw myself going.”

Another aspect of her art that further endeared Higgins to local audiences was the unashamedly Australian accent with which she delivered her deeply personal narratives, the singer explaining to Munro of the inflection:

“It wasn’t particularly conscious. But at the same time, personally, I find it a little bit distracting when I know that a singer is Australian and they’re singing with a real American twang.

“I don’t mind that kinda neutral accent - but when they’ve got a real American accent I feel that they’re not singing in their real voice, they’re acting. They’re not being completely honest. I feel like when I’m singing with my Australian accent I’m telling the story just how I would to a friend.”

Sadly, despite making plenty of inroads, the anticipated US success of The Sound Of White did not eventuate upon its 2005 release in that hardest of markets, perhaps in part due to that inherently Australian delivery which so enchanted local fans (although Billboard’s review did complement her “refreshing Melbourne accent”).

But any which way you spin it, The Sound Of White was a massive and unadulterated success for Higgins, one which perfectly laid the strong foundations for her storied and enduring career to follow.

Yet, somewhat bizarrely, the album’s real importance and impact still wouldn’t become readily apparent for a number of years.

The All-Important Aftermath

Whether it was Higgins’ unaffected persona, deft melodicism, willingness to defy convention in her art or the heart-wrenching honesty and introspection of her lyrics - any of the album’s myriad idiosyncratic charms - something about The Sound Of White touched a nerve with a generation of young Australian music fans and, importantly, budding female musicians.

In a 2018 piece for triple j titled The Generation Of Artists Inspired By Missy Higgins, Declan Byrne wrote:

“When Missy Higgins wrote The Sound Of White, a collection of personal songs about life as a young woman, it’s hard to imagine even she dreamt of where it would take her. And among all the success that followed, perhaps the most powerful element of Missy’s legacy is the generation of musicians she inspired.

“In fact, you’d have a hard time finding an artist that has had a bigger impact on the current crop of Australian female artists than Missy Higgins.”

He went on to quote a number of successful Australian musicians who’d emerged in the shadow of The Sound Of White and were happy to both sing its praises and discuss its impact on their own musical journeys.

Among them was Gold Coast star Amy Shark who recalled “just how real and simple her songs were. Everything felt so natural, the stories she was telling and the way she was telling them in that unique and very Australian voice. We were all just so proud to have her…

“Missy Higgins was an inspiration for any female playing guitar and piano. The melodies, the way she writes songs… with her I can see her writing these songs and it all coming out so fluently and so real… it’s exactly how I like writing. I’m a huge fan and very connected to a lot of her songs.”

In the same piece, rising Melbourne artist Gretta Ray - who followed in Higgins’ footsteps by winning the national Unearthed competition in 2016 - had this to say about the impact The Sound Of White had on her:

“Missy was someone that was Australian, singing with an Australian accent, and she was totally unique and she represented us. Young female singer-songwriters need to have someone to look to and be like, that could be me…

“Once they can see someone who they can relate to, then they can entertain the idea that they could do that as well. Missy is pretty monumental in that sense for Australian singer-songwriters.”

Similarly, in 2017 rising folktronica artist Gordi wrote in Music Feeds’ ‘Love Letter To A Record’ column (the piece written as if speaking directly to The Sound Of White):

“I loved you so much. I felt like you had been written for me, like every experience you detailed was about to happen to me because I had just turned 12 and was now a fully-fledged adult. You were so personal and brave, I felt like I was listening to a diary entry with nothing to hide and everything to give…

“You’re the reason I write songs the way I do, so personally and so honestly, with nothing to hide and everything to give.”

A few years later in 2021 young soul songstress Odette spoke to The West Australian’s Barry Divola about the impact that The Sound Of White had made on her personally, admitting:

“That album messed me up. If I ever meet Missy, I’ll tell her it’s her fault that I’m so emotional. Those songs were so relatable and really dark but emotionally bold. They made me think, ‘Okay, I’ve clearly got some stuff going on, so I’d better make some songs of my own’.”

And the ongoing ripples from the impact The Sound Of White made with female musicians show no sign of dissipating, with rising Melbourne singer-songwriter Angie McMahon telling the Sydney Morning Herald’s Jules LeFevre in 2023;

“I was quite young when Missy Higgins’ The Sound Of White came out. That was a really big turning point in my life. I felt like [after] listening to that record and learning to play the songs, which I did a lot, I had a clear understanding of what I wanted to do with myself.”

Final Wash Up

It’s undeniable how much impact that The Sound Of White has made on the Australian music scene, both at the time and in the two decades since it made Missy Higgins a household name. Discussing the record’s merits in The 100 Best Australian Albums the authors concluded:

The Sound Of White was quite unlike any other Australian record of its era. It was neither ironic alternarock nor a stylised diva turn. The album possessed a sophisticated vocabulary but was always plain speaking and true to its author.”

And therein lies the crux. It’s that combination of raw honesty and authenticity that Missy Higgins displayed so naturally throughout The Sound of White which connected so broadly and viscerally with the next generation of Australian female musicians, and which continues resonating through their music and into our culture and society to this day. We’re all the richer for it.

Missy Higgins is touring from March through to July on her Second Act tour. You can find remaining tickets here.




Saturday 22 June - Palais Theatre | Melbourne, VIC - SOLD OUT

Friday 5 July - BCEC Great Hall | Brisbane, QLD

Saturday 6 July - ICC Sydney Theatre | Sydney, NSW



Thursday 28 March - Frankston Arts Centre | Frankston, VIC SOLD OUT

Friday 29 March - Civic Hall | Ballarat, VIC SOLD OUT

Tuesday 9 April - Canberra Theatre | Canberra, ACT SOLD OUT

Wednesday 10 April - Canberra Theatre | Canberra, ACT SOLD OUT

Friday 12 April - State Theatre | Sydney, NSW SOLD OUT

Saturday 13 April - State Theatre | Sydney, NSW SOLD OUT

Sunday 14 April - State Theatre | Sydney, NSW SOLD OUT

Thursday 18 April - Perth Concert Hall | Perth, WA SOLD OUT

Friday 19 April - Perth Concert Hall | Perth, WA SOLD OUT

Saturday 20 April - Perth Concert Hall | Perth, WA SOLD OUT

Friday 26 April - Hobart City Hall | Hobart, TAS SOLD OUT

​Saturday 27 April - Princess Theatre | Launceston, TA SOLD OUT

​Sunday 28 April - Princess Theatre | Launceston, TA SOLD OUT

​Friday 3 May - Palais Theatre | Melbourne, VIC SOLD OUT

​Saturday 4 May - Palais Theatre | Melbourne, VIC SOLD OUT

​Sunday 5 May - Palais Theatre | Melbourne, VIC SOLD OUT

Thursday 9 May - Mackay Entertainment & Convention Centre | Mackay, QLD SOLD OUT

Saturday 11 May - Munro Martin Parklands | Cairns, QLD

Sunday 12 May - Townsville Civic Centre | Townsville, QLD SOLD OUT

Friday 17 May - Ulumbarra Theatre | Bendigo, VIC SOLD OUT

Saturday 18 May - Gippsland Performing Arts Centre | Traralgon, VIC SOLD OUT

​Thursday 23 May - QPAC Concert Hall | Brisbane, QLD SOLD OUT

​Friday 24 May - QPAC Concert Hall | Brisbane, QLD SOLD OUT

​Saturday 25 May - HOTA Outdoor Stage | Gold Coast, QLD SOLD OUT

Thursday 30 May - Her Majesty’s Theatre | Adelaide, SA SOLD OUT

Friday 31 May - Her Majesty’s Theatre | Adelaide, SA SOLD OUT

​Saturday 1 June - Barossa Arts Centre | Tanunda, SA SOLD OUT

​Thursday 6 June - QPAC Concert Hall | Brisbane, QLD SOLD OUT

​Friday 7 June - Empire Theatre | Toowoomba, QLD SOLD OUT

Saturday 8 June - The Events Centre | Caloundra, QLD SOLD OUT

​Friday 14 June - Sydney Coliseum | Rooty Hill, NSW SOLD OUT

Saturday 15 June - Newcastle Civic Theatre | Newcastle, NSW SOLD OUT

​Sunday 16 June - Newcastle Civic Theatre | Newcastle, NSW SOLD OUT