‘Diamond In The Desert’: creating a world with Audiomovers’ LISTENTO

With their professional relationship spanning over ten years, Grammy-nominated songwriter, producer, mixer, and engineer Nico Stadi (Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, Kylie Minogue) and singer-songwriter Sidibe tell the story of how they created the ‘Diamond In Desert’ EP remotely, whilst she was in the desert and he was in LA. 

Could you give us an introduction to yourselves and your history of working together?

Sidibe: I’m Sidibe and I’m a singer-songwriter. I’ve been independently releasing music since 2014. Nico has worked on everything. Every single song that has come out, he’s produced most of it. Warryn Campbell is another producer that I’ve worked and written with that’s also been a part of the projects. But it’s mainly been Nico and I crafting the sound that you hear now.

Nico: Yeah, we met, when was it? Around 2010? 

Sidibe: Oh gosh yeah! It would’ve been 2010 or 2011 maybe.

So you’ve got an expansive history working together. How would you describe the sound you’ve created? 

Sidibe: I guess there are different ways I would describe it. If I were to choose three words, they’d be smooth, romantic and lush.

Sidibe (left) at the photoshoot for the EP cover

Perfect. You’ve mentioned that you’ve been working together for a few years now. Nico, what was your involvement in ‘Diamond In The Desert’?

Nico: Yeah, so like Sidibe was saying we’ve been doing pretty much everything together since 2014. Ever since then it’s just been a case of figuring out what we want to do and going through the motions. Writing songs together and figuring out which of those songs we want to bundle together into an EP. 

Obviously, the musical landscape has changed a little since we started. It’s more about releasing singles now and we’re aware of that and we’ll probably be doing more of that in the future. The first song we wrote for this project was ‘Diamond In The Desert’ and that kind of set the mood for the whole EP. That track was like a catalyst for the whole thing.

So the title track sparked the inspiration for the overarching theme for the rest of the tracks? 

Nico: Exactly, that track was done entirely remotely. ‘Diamond In The Desert’ came from the first writing session, which we did remotely using Audiomovers’ LISTENTO.

Was the entire process done in this way?

Nico: We recorded all of the vocals remotely right?

Sidibe: We definitely did this with Virga, Never-ending Horizon and Pink Lightning. We actually used Audiomovers for the inception of all of the songs except for Tellin’ U. I’d be tuned into the sessions remotely and would drive around the desert listening to them. I remember all of those experiences so well. Audiomovers has been a big part of our process.

How did the idea to work in this way come about?

Sidibe: That’s all Nico!

Nico: I don’t actually remember the first time we did an Audiomovers session together. It was definitely before the pandemic. There was a period of time when I was in Finland and we did sessions remotely whilst I was there. 

Sidibe: That would’ve been around 2019/2020.

Nico: Definitely. We’ve been doing stuff remotely for a while now. For me specifically, because I was going to Finland a lot and I work with people all over the world, it’s kind of a normal part of my life.

So I was very prepared for the pandemic in that sense. It was very normal for me to do sessions that way. I actually worked on two tracks for the Kylie Minogue record in the middle of the pandemic. All the vocals for those songs were recorded remotely. A lot of the stuff I did with her, I took, learned and applied to my sessions with Sidibe. 

I’d screen control her computer and have Ableton running and track her from my home. That’s also how we did Kylie’s stuff. There are a lot of variations on how to work remotely.

Sibide – ‘Diamond In The Desert’ (Lyric video)

What was the setup for this particular session?

Nico: There were multiple different types of setups depending on what we needed to do. The most simple one is when we’re doing a writing session and we’re not trying to record anything. All that entails is me putting LISTENTO on the master bus in Ableton and then just sending out the link to Sidibe. She’ll either be on her phone or computer and we’ll just be coming up with ideas. That’s the simplest form of doing this.

From there, it can get more complex as that entails me setting up LISTENTO on her computer in her DAW as the output. I think we were mainly using TeamViewer for the screen controlling. We have done Zoom’s screen control as well.

A couple of times I used Audio Hijack from Rogue Amoeba. I would sometimes have different audio routing types set up there. Say I wanted to play her YouTube clips or have iTunes playing so that she could listen. Like when we’re coming up with ideas and inspiration. It’s just easier for us to both hear in high definition.

Awesome. What were some of the themes/concepts behind the lyrical content?

Sidibe: Can I quickly say that the backgrounds were a big part of the process that I remember. I always just remember refreshing and seeing the different images. They added a really nice atmosphere. It’s a really subtle but nice touch.

So the literal theme of the project was being in the desert. The love affair between me and the desert started in 2018. It wasn’t until 2020, during the George Floyd protests, that I remember walking around and it was an ominous and stormy day. It reminded me of the desert and I just started writing the first verse of ‘Diamond In The Desert’ because it triggered a memory of mine. Nico and I were just starting something new and I brought this idea forward. We wanted to incorporate ambient, distorted guitars and sounds that felt like the desert. 

Metaphorically, the diamond in the desert is something that’s precious and priceless. It can be a physical object or a memory. But it’s just the idea that we all have a diamond, something that belongs to us that can never be taken away. I feel like I’ve discovered so many diamonds in the desert during my time here. Things that maybe only I behold or have witnessed, but they stay with me.

Sidibe – ‘Diamond In The Desert’ EP cover

It sounds like the lyrics came from a really natural and sentimental place.

Sidibe: Totally and it was like let’s really go for it. That’s the point of music, right? To create a world. That’s the thing I love about working with Nico is that we did create a world that feels really visceral and palpable. It was all about bringing the listener into that desert environment and committing to the myth and story.

Listening to the tracks the instrumentation and effects used really do bring that environment to life for the listener.

Nico: One thing that I’ve found is that you have to have two sets of brains that are operating at the same time whilst in these sessions. One is the technical side of things, which is the mixing, routing, streaming and just trying to make things sound good. But the other side is the more creative side. The “let’s just work on the song” part. Sometimes, it can be difficult to distinguish those two from each other and stop one from overtaking the other.

But what I’ve found interesting about working remotely is that I’m not so focused on trying to make something sound incredible right away. It allows my brain to just focus on trying to get a good song written, to focus on the bigger picture. It’s really helped me and I’ve tried to take that mindset and apply it to my in-person sessions. It’s adjusted my mindset in a really cool way.

Do you have an idea as to why you think it’s helped you in that way?

Nico: I think it’s a psychological thing. Because the other person isn’t in the room, it’s this different type of connection. It pushes you to focus on the song and I’ve found that with many of the sessions that I’ve had. It’s less about making the track sound amazing and more about writing a good song. Later on, I can then spend some time working on the track. When you’re in the same room, it’s just easier to get sucked into trying to make everything sound good, as opposed to focusing on the song.

Sidibe: It never feels like remote sessions are a compromise. When we’re doing our Zoom and Audiomovers sessions it always feels really exciting and fun. It’s like we’re making this agreement to step into this other space. 

I think literally every song we did back-to-back in those sessions made it onto the project. We didn’t have any misses. The space that this way of working creates is really cool.

So the EP came out last Friday. What are your plans post EP release?

Sidibe: We’ve actually already started writing new material. We were using Audiomovers last week and have already started an amazing new song, so we’re already in a new world. The desert is being left behind!

We don’t know what world will be next, but we’re really excited. It’s already sounding great! We’re just really focused on being consistent with the releases because it’s been really helpful. You can expect music to keep coming out.

You can find ‘Diamond In The Desert’ on all streaming platforms now. Check it out and let us know your thoughts via our Instagram page.

Neil Dowd
Author: Neil Dowd