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Interview:
New Detroit music school is ready to rock
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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The long wall of the building on Detroit's Woodward Avenue just south of Grand Circus Park is splattered with a Ray Charles quote: "I never wanted to be famous. I just wanted to be great."

Greatness is a kind of mantra for the new Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME), a new university-styled school that will be residing in this pop-up space until late summer, when it moves into a permanent facility in the New Dime Building at 1265 Griswold St. in Capitol Park and begins classes in September. There students will study music performance and business curricula, with several degree possibilities ranging from a one-year diploma to a three-year Bachelor of Arts.

"It's kind of like a rock 'n' roll university," explains Kevin Nixon, DIME`s co-founder and president. "We work with kids who know they're good, who are passionate about it and are frustrated because they don't know how to get into the business and succeed.

"They want to have a career and a sustained career. That's about preparation and making the right decisions as well as having the talent. Those are the kinds of things we want to show them."

Nixon and his partners -- managing director Sarah Clayman and education director Bruce Dickinson -- have their own sustained careers, primarily in their native Britain, from which to teach by example. Nixon's 35-plus years in the business include being an artist, songwriter, record producer, artist manager (Kula Shaker, Kirsty MacColl) and independent label owner. Clayman worked with BBC Concerts and Sony Music UK, while Dickinson was with the band Little Angels" and wrote a book called "Running a Band as a Business.

The three started their first music school in Brighton, England, in 2000 "as kind of a hobby," according to Nixon. A decade later they had five operations in the U.K. and Ireland and 3,000 degree students, with alumni that included members of the British rock band the Kooks and singer-songwriter Tom Odell, whose 2013 debut album "Long Way Down" hit No. 1 in the U.K. and was the Critic's Choice winner at last year's Brit Awards.

"Our job is to help (students) refine that talent and get the confidence of a professional performer or even an entrepreneur," says Dickinson. And while Nixon estimates that while their schools have "had about one a year that gets through" to bigger things, the program's emphasis is on "everything in-between. It's not about making a million quid (British pounds) or having one hit. Some kids want to be Kurt Cobain, but it's also finding out about working in a publishing company or a management company or getting into merchandise or becoming a roadie.

"It all can be fun and a real career."

DIME students will learn not only about playing but also about music history and trends and stylistic analysis. With programs that range from $500 part-time and summer school to a $13,000 full degree, the structure is less academic than institutions such as Boston's Berklee College of Music, and there's a greater emphasis on skill development than practical achievement.

"One of the unique things about our college is we don't encourage people to record very quickly," explains Nixon. "Our research about music education in America is that probably 90 percent of it is very recording based, and also it's classical and a lot of jazz.

"But none of those things get you a good career. The recording industry has shrunk, and nowadays kids are brilliant at recording with their laptops. So they don't need to spend money to learn something they're already capable of doing. We believe you need to get your skill set high. If you become great in performance, then recording's a lot easier."

Due to changing patterns in the music industry, the DIME trio decided to sell its schools schools overseas and come to the U.S. Several cities were under consideration -- including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans -- but Detroit became a player thanks to Farmington Hills-based Beringea, a private equity form that also has an office in London. Despite having recently seen Julien Temple's decidedly pessimistic documentary "Requiem For Detroit," Beringea Senior Managing Director Charlie Rothstein's invitation to check out Detroit, and upon arriving last August, Nixon recalls, "We thought, 'This place is on fire!' We met all the business people, the young people, and we thought, 'This is the idea for what we do. This is the place!' "

With Beringea putting up $3 million and Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert staking the group in some of his Opportunity Detroit real estate downtown, DIME decided to make its home in the Motor City.

"This is not just a start-up business; these guys are already very successful at what they do," Gilbert -- whose companies are also offering 10 DIME scholarships for Detroit Public Schools students -- said during an open house last week at DIME's pop-up facility. "They have high standards. They're looking for the best musicians.

"This is the kind of business we need in Detroit. This is not just a regular, run of the mill retailer. It's a special school that...can attract kids maybe from all over the world to come here and live here."

DIME already worked for Elise McCoy, bassist in the Detroit band My Pal Val. Having heard about DIME through the grapevine, she wandered into the temporary location and was recruited, along with drummer Valerie Kraft, to be the rhythm section for the Wildflowers, a British band with former students that the DIME team has been developing. "I think it's absolutely incredible," McCoy says of the school. "I'm so on board with their philosophy. It's a very needed thing in this town."

DIME will spend the next five months in its pop-up location greeting visitors and recruiting students, as well as hiring faculty for the fall semester. The company also plans to host events to help get it's name out and bring in students

"We're all about substance and sustaining careers," Nixon says. "The music business can be disposable, but we don't want that for our students. We want them to have the tools to have permanent, long-lasting careers like we've had."

DIME is currently located at 1520 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Call 313-223-1600 or visit www.dime-detroit.com for more information.

Web Site: www.dime-detroit.com

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