‘A lot of people feeling lost’: Why record-breaking Aussie artist Tones and I’s new project is needed now more than ever

Five years ago, an up and coming Mornington Peninsula-born busker walked onto a stage with nothing but a synth rig, a microphone and her voice.

It was midday on a Friday. She’d been a last-minute addition to the Splendour In The Grass line-up, winning a 30-minute, six-song set as the opening triple j Unearthed slot.

A man was still loading bins into the mosh as the opening notes of Johnny Run Away echoed around North Byron Parklands. But 20 minutes later, she was performing to an estimated crowd of at least 25,000 people, breaking a festival record in the process.

Half a decade later, she’d break a global record – in February, Tones and I became the first female artist to have a single song (Dance Monkey) surpass three billion streams on Spotify. Her monumental rise, however, is not something that’s easy to replicate.

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Toni Watson

Achieving success in Australia as a musician has been a hot topic since the pandemic, which saw the arts and entertainment industry disrupted in a way it’s never truly recovered from.

An example of this is Splendour In The Grass 2024’s cancellation last week due to “unexpected events”, something that sparked Tones and I – who was set to return to the iconic annual event this year for the first time in five years – to encourage fans to “do your best to support local artists and local festivals in our own country if you can.”

“A lot of up and coming artists that have now hit their stride were booked for Splendour, and it is our Glastonbury. It is our Coachella,” the ARIA Award-winning artist, who is fresh off a national tour with Pink, tells 9honey Celebrity in Sydney.

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“And I think that dream for a lot of people… a lot of people plan their releases around it and their year because it’s such a big look, if you can have a great set, and we’re left [with] a lot of people feeling lost,” she says.

The Never Seen The Rain singer acknowledges the complexity of the issue on all sides – costs for, and by extension, prices set by production companies have risen, and in a cost-of-living crisis, an “expensive” three-day music festival is not on the cards for as many punters as it used to be.

“I’m hoping that they come back stronger than ever. That’s my that’s my hope… for me, it was instrumental to my career and to this day it was my favourite moment of my whole career,” she continues.

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Tones And I

“But there’s just a way bigger picture here. It’s just not about me. It’s about the music industry and what’s happening to it. I feel for the the people that run it, they love it more than anyone,” Tones and I says.

“And I think it’s hard. You can’t tell people to get around it because some people just genuinely can’t afford it.”

Tones and I highlights how music consumption by fans has changed, something Brisbane-born DJ and record producer Young Franco – who, like Tones and I, has been in the game for more than a decade – resonates with.

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Tones and I, Young Franco, CHAII

“The goalposts have changed over the last couple of years,” he tells 9honey Celebrity. “It’s an interesting spot to be in.”

The 30-year-old artist behind A-League theme song Real Nice (H.C.T.F.) highlights the difficulty in reaching mass audiences “in a way that impacts” in the age of streaming, without the guarantee of “a certain amount of listenership” – and royalties – commercial radio used to provide.

There is, however, a bit of light for the duo in the doom and gloom – they, alongside Persian-New Zealand rapper and producer CHAII, have joined forces with Coke Studio to create a new single and music video that’s set to debut later this year.

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Tones and I

They’ll be giving fans a glimpse behind the curtain of how a hit is made from start to finish on the Coke Studio Hub and social media, something CHAII says is much needed in the current music landscape.

“I think this is the perfect time for anyone – any artists or any producers out there – to follow this journey, because we are going to be sharing a lot of the process,” the Drippin In Gold artist tells 9honey Celebrity.

“We’re going to actually give the insight we wouldn’t usually into how this is all happening, creating the music, collaborating, the process.”

Follow Tones and I, Young Franco and CHAII’s journey with Coke Studio on the official Coke Studio Hub, on the artists’ social media pages or #CokeStudioAU.

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