New & Next: DIME Denver Opens its Doors

A collaboration between the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME) and MSU Denver aims to kickstart careers in music.
Today, the business of contemporary music is a world away from what most people think (or remember) of the traditional record label-dominated industry. Laptop recordings done in a bedroom can rival the multimillion dollar studio work of just a few decades ago. There are more genres and subgenres than ever. Yet some elements are timeless; a good song will always be a good song. 
So how do we learn the foundations of what works while preparing the next generation of musicians for an industry we've yet to imagine?
"To help students make a living while making music is the goal of DIME Denver," says Kevin Nixon, president and co-founder of the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME). A specialized educational program preparing musicians for success in all aspects of the modern workforce, it allows students to focus on areas of specialization to receive industry-ready applied training.
And, thanks to Nixon and co-founder Sarah Clayman, DIME Denver has partnered with Metropolitan State University of Denver to provide a comprehensive undergraduate education that really rocks.
Artists today can instantaneously distribute their work anywhere in the world with a few keystrokes. As such, avenues for collaboration are nearly limitless: The channels to both make music and learn together are more diverse and convergent than they ever have been. "Today, music functions as both a utility and a communications endeavor," says Nixon. "That's why our educational methods are unlike any other."
At DIME Denver, that means instead of traditional classrooms, there are learning studios; in place of stodgy lectures, interactive workshops. And sometimes it requires dealing with the unexpected: If an instructor needs to take time off to tour with Jack White, isn't the entire organization better off in the long run for it?
That's one of the many unique perspectives differentiating the program from its peers -- the idea that the shifting boundary waters of modern music is best navigated by people currently doing it themselves, along with those who've charted a similar track record of success.
Both Nixon and Clayman have a deeply-entrenched connection to contemporary music. Jointly, they've had a hand in the sales of more than six million albums, 35 hit singles (along with two no. 1 albums) and toured the world with major-label artists nine times.
From this success came a new calling: Preparing the next generation of artists and performers.
"We started talking about how young people break into the industry and how hard it is unless you know someone already," says Clayman. "We knew we wanted to give back."
Or as Nixon puts it, "The eight music colleges we have built in the last 15 years work because the regional locations we have chosen are where they are most needed by young disenfranchised musicians." Many programs in universities tend to specialize in classical and jazz which are great but don't give the full picture of music in the modern world.
This kind of thinking led the duo to form the Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM) in Britain, initially enrolling 180 students in a single outpost in 2001. By the time BIMM sold in 2012, it had grown to more than 2,000 degree-seekers and locations in Bristol, Dublin, London and three in Brighton.
Of the statistics, however, there's one that Nixon and Clayman feel stands as a testament to their brand of industry-ready training: More than 70 percent of graduates make a living working with professional music.
Opening up the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME) in 2014 continued the opportunity for musical and entrepreneurial creatives to pursue their passion while working on an accredited undergraduate degree; about 200 students currently attend the location in southeast Michigan.
So, why was Denver next? The decision to set up shop here was an easy one, according to Clayman. Thanks to Tami Door with the Downtown Denver Partnership, they connected with MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan and Vice President for Administration and Finance Steve Kreidler -- and within 10 minutes, they knew we'd found a new home for DIME. Nixon sees parallels with Detroit as a hotspot for innovation that deserved celebration and investment in a culture of creativity.
"Given MSU Denver's commitment to public-private partnerships and the value the DIME brand could bring, the collaboration was natural," Clayman adds.
Another defining characteristic of the program is that it's a music program where not everyone needs to be a musician. "Entrepreneurship is just as important as picking up a guitar," says Nixon.
That includes everything from managing operations of the current pop-up headquarters and venue (located in the Tivoli student union basement), to working with Original 1265, the program's record label associated with Caroline Distribution and part of Capitol Music Group. Students have the opportunity to both plug into many parts of a proven success network, as well as venture out to stake their own claim in the modern music landscape.
"The only way to be successful [in the music industry] is to keep learning; to keep understanding and asking the question 'What comes next?'" says Nixon. And the bottom line? "If someone has the passion and will to pursue a career with music, DIME Denver can help them find their way."
Cory Phare is a Denver-based writer covering education, architecture, design, and the arts. Read more of his work and contact him here.
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