How US music producer Sean Barcoe wants to evolve Abu Dhabi's live music scene

The producer and singer-songwriter is the founder of The BarCoe Studio in Khalifa City

Sean Barcoe, the man behind Abu Dhabi recording studio The BarCoe Studio, is looking to develop the next generation of musicians in the UAE. Victor Besa / The National
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An Abu Dhabi recording studio is aiming to change the way regional competitors do business.

Located in Khalifa City, The BarCoe Studio has launched an initiative to bring the country’s musical talents to the venue for more than a jam session.

Under the Follow Your Dreams UAE campaign, artists can undergo consultations about their material with the studio’s in-house producers and engineers, take part in songwriting classes and even get a session shot and edited for a potential music video.

According to the studio’s namesake founder Sean Barcoe, such an expansive approach is a far cry from the normal practices of studios in the Arab world.

“From what I have seen and experienced here, it is all very transactional,” he tells The National.

The ultimate goal for me is to open a live music venue here in Abu Dhabi that is purely dedicated to original music. It's through venues like these that a music scene can really evolve in the city
Sean Barcoe, founder of The BarCoe Studio

“Studios are essentially used as a venue for hire and any person can just pay for whatever hours they want the studio and sound engineer for. There is no real focus on the art that is being created and, I guess, I want to show that there is another way.”

And that’s the Nashville way. In addition to being one of the great US music destinations, the city is renowned as a vibrant hub for songwriters.

Barcoe came to the UAE in 2014 after a 12-year stint in Nashville, where he immersed himself in the city’s rich musical heritage..

“It is all about sitting together and playing each other's songs,” he says. “The music is created organically and with this great vibe, and this is what I want to bring here.”

While Follow Your Dreams UAE may have only launched this month, that collaborative spirit has been coursing throughout The BarCoe Studio since it opened its doors in 2018.

The space aims to calm any artist's creative jitters with its charming, casual villa vibe (including plush couches and a spacious garden) and tight-knit staff, which ranges from four to 16 people, depending on the project.

Some of the acts using the studio include Kuwaiti hip-hop duo Sons of Yusuf, Emirati RnB singer Fafa, Dubai singer-songwriter Ibby VK and The Voice of Ireland season one contestant Gari Deegan.

Collaboration is key

Despite the eclectic names and styles of musicians utilising the space, each artist must chat with Barcoe before stepping into the studio.

"It's a free consultation, but what I am really doing is interviewing the artist to see if we are both a right fit for each other. So I invite them to the studio to check it out because sometimes the vibe and our approach may not be for you," he says.

"We would pick up an instrument and play with them and see where they are with their work. Doing it this way allows us to focus on the talent and weed out the time-wasters. "

It’s an approach Fafa appreciates. She has enlisted the studio’s services over the past two years, with various singles recorded there, including Give Me a Miracle and Runnin' (Can't Stop Me).

“It’s not a place where you just give money and they just do what you want,” she says. “It begins with conversations about what is it we want to do and can we do it?

“And as an artist that is refreshing and important, because I have worked with many producers where we simply didn’t get along. That ultimately gets in the way of producing your best piece of art.”

With advancing technology making it easier for artists to simply record at home, Fafa says the role of a professionally staffed studio is becoming more important.

“There is more to producing than downloading software,” she says.

“It’s about understanding music composition, structure and theory, and why certain sounds go well with this and that. This is what you get in a great studio."

Developing a local music scene

Barcoe says the campaign will be ongoing, with the studio hoping to host public performances by local artists once it’s safe again to do so.

"The ultimate goal for me is to open a live music venue here in Abu Dhabi that is purely dedicated to original music. It's through venues like these that a music scene can really evolve in the city," he says.

"Now I can't do that by myself, but what I can do is not sit back and say 'that would be nice’. I can start doing stuff here in the studio that will take us in that direction.

“It may take years for that to happen, but so what? I want to give something back to the community here and music is my way to do it."

The BarCoe Studio is on Soughan Street, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi. More information is available at

Updated: August 09, 2021, 9:59 AM