Music in Motown: Private Detroit College Prepares Students for Music Careers

'It's all based on giving them something that they can't find anywhere else'

Kevin Nixon and Sarah Clayman at a recent show.

It is a question Kevin Nixon and Sarah Clayman get frequently.

“Why are two English people in Detroit setting up a music college?” said Nixon.

Nixon and Clayman have 15 years of history to provide the answer. That is how long they’ve been in the music education business teaching young people how to have sustainable careers in the modern music industry.

The two started their first college on the south coast of England with 180 students. Within five years, it had grown to 1,000 students. “We really identified this niche in the market for young professional musicians wanting to be trained to go into the music industry," said Clayman.

“The price of education has been ridiculously inflated for decades and it’s not necessary,” explained Nixon.

In 2013, Nixon and Clayman opened their first music college in the U.S. and picked Detroit, Michigan, as the location. The Detroit Institute for Music Education is marketed to students with musical ability who want to work in the modern music industry. Clayman and Nixon hope that by making their school career-centered and affordable, they will have a competitive advantage in the higher education industry.

“We feel that a lot of students in the U.S. are taking classes that won’t necessarily help them in their chosen careers. And by taking the class, you pay for that class and that gets added on your student debt,” said Clayman.

At DIME, as it is known, students learn to navigate the modern music market while developing their musical ability. Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in one of six tracks, from songwriting to performance. The school is driven from an industry point of view and differs from programs at traditional colleges and universities, which focus on jazz and classical music.

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“Musicians tend to come out of those programs being very skilled musicians but don’t have any experience or knowledge of the music industry and that is why we refer to DIME as a modern music education institute,” said Nixon.

Nixon and Clayman have had long careers in the music business, Nixon as a songwriter, recording artist and producer and Clayman as a concert promoter and band manager. In 2001, they opened up their first music college. Subsequently, they opened three more colleges, graduating 10,000 students in 10 years.

The U.K. could not absorb many graduating professional musicians, said Clayman, who added that she felt America would benefit from their approach to modern music education.

The two researched several cities, including New York, Cleveland and Nashville. They settled on Detroit due in large part to their primary investor, Charlie Rothstein, of the Farmington Hills venture capital firm Beringea.

It was not without hesitation. Much of Nixon and Clayman’s view of Detroit came from the 2010 BBC documentary, “Requiem for Detroit.”

“I phoned Sarah the first night and I said, you won’t believe what’s going on. There’s such a renaissance here. This place is full of young people, young businesses, who are all getting seed money. It’s the perfect place for us to do a college,” said Nixon.

The two used their own cash and raised money privately to open the school. While DIME is a for-profit business, its tuition, at $14,200 is comparable to in-state tuition at public universities and far lower than private, nonprofit ones. Nixon and Clayman say they can keep tuition at that level by keeping the school small and the curriculum focused.

“We put our heart and soul into making sure that these classes are absolutely the best they can be and most importantly, we listen to our customers,” said Nixon. “It's all based on giving them something that they can't find anywhere else.”


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