MSU’s new mu­sic pro­gram, DIME Den­ver, will fo­cus on pre­par­ing stu­dents for the mu­sic in­dus­try

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Dy­lan Owens

Can you teach rock and roll?

If there’s any one guid­ing ques­tion for DIME Den­ver, Metropoli­tan State Uni­ver­sity of Den­ver’s new­est pro­gram, it’s that. Un­like other mu­sic pro­grams in the area — like the one at Uni­ver­sity of Colorado or MSU’s al­ready es­tab­lished col­lege of mu­sic — DIME Den­ver’s fo­cus is on pre­par­ing its stu­dents for the world of Top 40 and the dizzy­ing in­dus­try around it in­stead of con­duct­ing and coun­ter­point.

“There are a lot of uni­ver­sity mu­sic pro­grams (in the Den­ver area), and a lot do­ing them well, but it didn’t feel there was any one that was re­ally in the niche we were in,” said Sarah Clay­man, who co-founded DIME with her hus­band, Kevin Nixon. (The acro­nym ini­tially re­ferred to its flag­ship school, the Detroit In­sti­tute of Mu­sic Ed­u­ca­tion, but here refers to the Den­ver pro­gram.)

The part­ners aren’t only bring­ing an am­bi­tious, young mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram to Den­ver when DIME opens its doors in Septem­ber 2017. Con­sid­er­ing each of their im­pres­sive pedi­grees in the in­dus­try, they’ll also af­ford the city’s tal­ent a di­rect line of sight from in­ter­na­tion­ally es­tab­lished mu­sic pro­fes­sion­als.

Clay­man, 44, and Nixon, 60, came to the con­cept of their mod­ern mu­sic school only af­ter decades spent in sep­a­rate wings of the in­dus­try them­selves. The daugh­ter of a suc­cess­ful Lon­don con­cert pro­moter, Clay­man re­al­ized as early as 13 that she wanted to fol­low him into the mu­sic busi­ness. In her later teens, she worked for her father on in­ter­na­tional tours with mas­sive artists like Prince and Michael Jack­son.

Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing her­self as an in­ter­na­tional pro­moter with Sony Mu­sic, Clay­man be­gan work­ing closely with pop­u­lar English psy­che­delic rock band Kula Shaker. It was then she met Kevin Nixon, who was the band’s man­ager at the time. Dixon poached Clay­man to work for his man­age­ment com­pany.

A fel­low English­man, Nixon grew up in a fam­ily of jazz mu­si­cians. He briefly dithered in pro­fes­sional soc­cer, play­ing for Leeds United in its cham­pi­onship-win­ning 1973-74 sea­son at the age of 17. Put off by his time in sport, he was signed by a la­bel soon af­ter — “I was the sec­ond kid from York to get a record deal,” he said — and fought his way up the in­dus­try food chain. Nixon be­came a pro­ducer, then man­ager for bands like Kula Shaker and Lit­tle An­gels be­fore even­tu­ally as­sum­ing a role as the head of artists and reper­toire (A&R) for English bil­lion­aire Richard Bran­son’s V2 la­bel.

In 2000, the un­ex­pected death of Kirsty MacColl, a 41-year-old singer­song­writer whom Dixon and Clay­man were work­ing with, forced them to take stock of their lives. Crav­ing to work closer with artists and ex­ert a more mean­ing­ful in­flu­ence, they be­gan de­vel­op­ing their con­cept for a mod­ern mu­sic school — one for artists and in­dus­try hope­fuls alike.

Af­ter set­ting up a hand­ful of schools in cities like Dublin, Brighton and Lon­don through­out the aughts, Clay­man and Dixon brought their ideas to the United States in 2014 with the of­fi­cial es­tab­lish­ment of DIME in Detroit.

On the in­dus­try side, Clay­man and Dixon had com­plained about a sort of mu­sic in­dus­try para- dox they wanted to help solve: It’s ex­ceed­ingly dif­fi­cult to be­come suc­cess­ful in the mu­sic in­dus­try, yet there’s a dearth of can­di­dates qual­i­fied to do A&R at a high level.

“I had an in be­cause of my fam­ily, and Kev broke in by luck and chance and a lit­tle bit of hard work,” Clay­man said, laugh­ing. “But the mu­sic in­dus­try is such a closed shop, and it doesn’t have to be. That got us think­ing about train­ing.”

Clay­man and Dixon de­signed DIME’s four-year pro­gram to make in­dus­try-ready pro­fes­sion­als out of its stu­dents. The in­struc­tors are all pro­fes­sion­als (An­tea Shel­ton, a song­writer who’s worked for the likes of Bey­once and Justin Bieber, teaches song­writ­ing and vo­cals at DIME Detroit), and prospec­tive artists are treated as en­trepreneurs, and are ex­pected to take in­dus­try classes in ad­di­tion to their writ­ing and per­for­mance lessons.

“We are a very prac­ti­cal uni­ver­sity,” said Steve Krei­dler, vice pres­i­dent for ad­min­is­tra­tion at MSU Den­ver. “We’re try­ing to get stu­dents jobs. While there’s a lot of great mu­sic com­ing out of Colorado, peo­ple are still pick­ing up and go­ing other places. We wanted to be a part of cap­tur­ing that in­dus­try here in Den­ver.”

The school is an­tic­i­pat­ing about 100 stu­dents for its first year, and hopes to see that num­ber grow ten­fold by 2025, though Krei­dler con­ceded that would make for a “very, very large” aca­demic pro­gram. One year at the school will run $14,999.

Just as they saw Detroit as a city with vast un­tapped mu­si­cal tal­ent, Clay­man and Dixon found that same po­ten­tial in Den­ver on their first visit last year.

“Den­ver ticks all the boxes,” Clay­man said, cit­ing an abun­dance of young peo­ple and mu­sic venues. But it’s al­most as notable for what it was miss­ing. Clay­man and Dixon saw an un­tapped niche for their con­tem­po­rary mu­sic pro­gram, and a cer­tain lack­ing in its lo­cal mu­sic scene.

“There’s a lot of amaz­ing tour­ing bands that come through, but when you try to find the baby bands, it’s harder,” Clay­man said. “There’s not much of a cen­tral hub for mu­sic.”

The hope is that DIME Den­ver can con­trib­ute to that cen­ter. The pop-up space they in­stalled in the base­ment of MSU’s Tivoli Stu­dent Union, where the pro­gram was an­nounced in Novem­ber, is an ex­am­ple of the mu­sic cen­ter they’re imag­in­ing: a chicly rus­tic, 100-per­son room that can serve as a space for bud­ding mu­si­cians to cross paths, play their songs and, ide­ally, col­lab­o­rate.

“The mu­sic in­dus­try to­day isn’t just New York, L.A., and Nashville,” Dixon said. “It’s any­where in Amer­ica — it’s pos­si­ble to have a world­wide hit out of any­where. Drake came out of Toronto. There’s no rea­son why the next Ed Sheeran couldn’t come out of Den­ver.”

Pro­vided by DIME

English pop-rock band Wild­flow­ers per­formed at DIME Den­ver’s pop-up event at MSU Den­ver’s Tivoli Stu­dent Union on Nov. 13.

Pro­vided by DIME

Kevin Dixon and Sarah Clay­man in­tro­duce DIME dur­ing the pro­gram’s pop-up event at the Tivoli Stu­dent Union.

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