It wouldn’t be accurate to call the Detroit Institute of Music Education a school, as founders Kevin Nixon and Sarah Clayman are quick to remind you.
“It’s not a university; it’s an Institute,” Nixon said. “There’s a big difference. You’ve only got to look at the place to see that difference because we build our buildings so that young people feel like they’re in the music industry the whole time they’re here, day and night.”
Nixon is a musician, songwriter, producer and manager, who sold his management company to Richard Branson and ran V2 Records. Clayman followed her father’s path into the music industry and worked on live tours with Prince, Michael Jackson and Neil Diamond before heading up the International Promotions department at Sony Music Entertainment UK.
Their careers in the music industry have been successful—featuring more than six million album sales, Brit award wins, 35 hit singles and two No. 1 albums. But music education has become their passion.
“We’re music business people first, who have become education people,” Nixon said. “We became involved in music education because we feel it’s needed. Particularly from an academic point of view, we’ve always been on a crusade for an Eminem to be recognized to the same level as Mozart. That’s why we created DIME.”
The pair’s dream started in the United Kingdom—with a year’s worth of planning and logistics in a pub—and led to the creation of the Brighton Institute of Modern Music. Enrollment quickly ballooned from 180 students in the first year to more than 2,000 a decade later.
With the potential fully realized at home and a now-saturated market, both Nixon and Clayman wanted to find new opportunity for their brand of music education. It didn’t take long to see that in Detroit.
“We toured downtown first, but we also went to neighborhoods that have been affected by blight,” Clayman said of the pair’s first Detroit visit. “We went to the Packard Plant and to Brightmoor. We wanted to see the real Detroit. That experience confirmed that there are talented young musicians, entrepreneurs and songwriters who would musically and academically benefit from a place like DIME. It inspired us to be here.”
DIME initially opened a pop-up store so young artists could audition for a program and instructors could understand and share their ethos within the community. The goal worked.
“When we opened the pop-up shop in 2014, we met a lot of parents who came to talk to us,” Nixon said. “People said, ‘Listen, guys, you’ve just shown up in Detroit; you’re two English people; my child is now driving me nuts because they want to come here. Who are you, and why are you here?’”
With interest overflowing, the next challenge was finding a home for the Institute and completing the work before the start of the first semester. That wasn’t a simple task for Tim Kay, Managing Director of JLL’s Great Lakes Project and Development Services team.
“Kevin and Sarah needed a place with a certain cool factor, and so JLL looked for spaces in the urban core, historic buildings that we could bring back,” Kay said. “This one in particular had water pouring through the roof the day we looked at it. It took a lot of vision from the team to move forward.”
Kay’s challenge was working with the landlord, Bedrock, to redevelop a building that had been abandoned for 20 years. The team designed a music Institute with sophisticated acoustic treatment and soundproofing. Time constraints made the project challenging, as DIME had committed to the enrollment date and students were ready to start classes.
“From the beginning, Tim listened to what we were doing, understood the community, understood the importance of specific details like soundproofing and light in the classrooms,” Nixon said. “All these little nuances that we have, a lot of other companies really wouldn’t respect. He listened every step of the way, and he delivered this amazing building for us.”
The completed project at 1265 Griswold Street includes three stories of classrooms, offices and even a unique basement venue with capacity for 200 people called The Underground. Kay is a regular attendee of DIME’s evening performances.
“It’s very easy to get enthused about their mission,” Kay said. “Once they explain what they’re doing and why they picked Detroit as the first location, it all made perfect sense.
I never thought I’d see Detroit come back like it has. I’m so thrilled JLL could be a part of it.”
DIME’s first location in Detroit just saw its first graduating class. All of the students are working in the local or national music industry. After expanding to four cities and producing 11,000 graduates with BIMM in the U.K., Nixon and Clayman see great potential in the United States.
The Institute expanded to build DIME Denver last fall. Paired with their digital offering—called DIME Online—Nixon and Clayman now have the reach to make music education more accessible globally. There are currently students from 22 countries worldwide.
“We don’t promise fame and fortune,” Clayman said. “DIME is like a development deal for young musicians, songwriters and entrepreneurs. They can make all their mistakes while they’re here, so when they leave, their dreams can become reality.”
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