METRO PREPARES STUDENTS FOR THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
MSU’s new music program, DIME Denver, will focus on preparing students for the music industry
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.”
English pop-rock band Wildflowers performed at DIME Denver’s pop-up event at MSU Denver’s Tivoli Student Union on Nov. 13.
Kevin Dixon and Sarah Clayman introduce DIME during the program’s pop-up event at the Tivoli Student Union.