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The ability to hit the right notes is a key requirement for being a musician—but understanding how the music industry works comes in a close second. Most university-level music programs focus almost solely on the technical side of musicianship, though, leaving young artists with a lack of knowledge about how to turn their passion into a career.
Sarah Clayman and Kevin Nixon, both longtime music industry executives in the United Kingdom, saw that gap in education and decided to start their own music institute. “We realized there was really no training in the music industry. It was very difficult for young musicians and music entrepreneurs who wanted to work in the industry to figure out how to do that,” says Clayman, founding director of the DIME Group. “We wanted to create these opportunities for other young people.” So the duo started the Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM), now called the British and Irish Institute of Modern Music, in 2001, financing it with their own money. It was so successful—in 10 years, they graduated more than 10,000 students from four campuses—they decided to bring the program stateside, opening the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME) in 2014. And, coming this fall, they’re launching DIME Denver in partnership with the music department at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
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BIMM and DIME focus on modern music such as rock, indie, and folk, and the instructors are all industry experts. “We realized that young people really liked this choice of music education because we were legitimizing modern music,” Clayman says. “Jazz and classical music were respected from an academic point of view, but playing rock guitar never was.” Students can focus on music performance (guitar, bass, drums, or vocals), songwriting, or music industry studies. “It’s not just about getting a record deal; it’s about having a long-term sustainable career in the industry,” Clayman says. Careers like the ones former students such as James Bay, the Kooks, and George Ezra have since found.
Siddy Bennett was a vocal degree student at the Bristol, UK, campus about six years ago. “I’d always been involved in music—it was the only thing I ever wanted to do,” she says. Except she didn’t know how to actually have a career as a singer. She was, as she puts it, “clueless” about important aspects such as branding and publishing. “BIMM was more experiencing what it was actually like to be a part of the industry. It completely changed my life,” she says.
Of course, a big part of becoming a successful musician is performing. DIME Denver hosts monthly DIME Presents concerts, featuring local musicians playing in a pop-up space beneath the Tivoli Student Union on MSU’s campus. “It’s really important for any city that has a music institute to create a hub for musicians. We really want young musicians, whether they study with DIME or not, to have somewhere to network and socialize,” Clayman says. To that end, when DIME students put on a show, they do a lot more than just perform: They get real-world experience promoting, booking, and getting paid for their shows. Bennett, who is now events and marketing manager for DIME Denver (and singer-songwriter for the three-piece folk-pop band Wildflowers), books all the local gigs.
March Music Month is winding down, but DIME Presents features an all-female lineup on March 31; doors open at 8 p.m. The show is free for the public to attend. Keep an eye on the website for future event announcements. “It’s about the experience,” Clayman says. “Young people only learn so much from being in a classroom environment and then they actually have to go out there and do it.”