British Invasion

School to train students in music education is setting up shop in downtown’s Capitol Park


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School of Rock was a funny, fanciful Jack Black movie that featured a genuine Detroit-area prodigy in guitarist Joey Gaydos Jr. But the idea of launching a real school here that trains students to become professional musicians or industry heavyweights is improbable, right? Don’t laugh. It’s called the music business, after all.

Let the disbelief stop on a DIME — as in Detroit Institute of Music Education, set to open downtown this fall in the nearly 120-year-old Bamlet Building dominating the corner of Grand River Avenue and Griswold Street in Capitol Park.

Such a school seems fitting here, the birthplace of Motown and Aretha and the home of Bob Seger, Kid Rock, and Jack White. It took a new-age British Invasion, the blessing of Detroit’s “Mogul of the Moment,” and $3 million in local venture capital to make it happen. And it could serve the same function the city’s fabled, now-shuttered Harmonie Park Studios provided for Detroit’s far-flung music community.

A community center.

“People keep telling us we took a risk in coming here; it doesn’t feel like that,” says York, England, native Kevin Nixon, who with fellow music veterans Sarah Clayman and Bruce Dickinson imported the academic system they used in establishing four institutes in the United Kingdom. “This is a music city, and I feel if we are able to contribute somewhat to consolidating and socializing the music community, it would be a great role for us.”

While awaiting their permanent 15,000-square-foot digs, DIME has been generating interest out of a pop-up space on Woodward Avenue south of Comerica Park. Emblazoned across one wall is a quote from Ray Charles: “I never wanted to be famous; I just wanted to be great.”

Here the principals have been auditioning prospective students, explaining their educational philosophy, and hosting live events — some starring the Wildflowers, the U.K. band that performed this year at South by Southwest and emerged from one of their schools.

Clayman, the managing director, says they sold their British institutes a few years ago because “we always wanted to come to America and set up our music education ethos here.

“What we do is based on modern music, an attitude to become a professional modern musician or working industry professional,” she says. “Our ethos is, ‘How are you going to learn to be Keith Richards?’ And lots of education establishments don’t teach that. You want to do all the creative fun stuff, but you have to respect the business. Otherwise someone else is going to take all your money.”

A serendipitous sequence of events landed DIME in Detroit instead of the trio’s first choice, New York.

“We got a call last September from American Idol, who were looking at putting an education arm alongside their brand,” says Clayman, who followed her father, Barry, a celebrated British concert promoter, into the business at 16. The show invited Nixon and Dickinson to the States to view a round of auditions — which happened to be in Detroit.

While here, the two dropped in on Farmington Hills-based Beringea LLC, a private equity firm they knew through earlier meetings at its London office. The Idol partnership didn’t blossom, but the relationship with Beringea co-founder Charles Rothstein did: Before long, they were sitting across from Quicken Loans land baron Dan Gilbert.

Gilbert isn’t investing, but owns the current pop-up space and the Bamlet Building where DIME will be headquartered. Through his eyes, “I got an instant understanding of what actually is taking place in downtown Detroit, which is impossible for an outsider to find in the media,” says Nixon, a songwriter and record producer who managed the ’90s British supergroup Little Angels that starred Dickinson as lead guitarist. “This place is buzzing. There’s all these young people, young businesses, young entrepreneurs. It just felt great to be here.”

Clayman says that “the negativity we hear in the U.K. about Detroit, it’s shocking. So when Kev and Bruce phoned me and said, ‘Get on a plane, you have to see Detroit! It is amazing!’ I said, ‘Really?’ ”

DIME will offer a weeklong summer school, a non-academic, one-year diploma track that Clayman says is “very performance focused,” and a three-year bachelor’s degree program accredited through England’s Falmouth University. The institute is looking for a university partner in the U.S. Local music professionals will be part of the faculty, and incoming students must audition.

The potential for DIME is exhilarating to one longtime Detroit musician. “This is one of the most exciting developments in Detroit,” says Brian Pastoria, who still works under the Harmonie Park name with his brother and partner, Mark, but was forced to abandon their studio last year. “Our music culture needs to be at the core of our revitalization. We are the Music Capital of the World.”

Can’t forget the Motor City.

“There is so much talent here,” Clayman adds. “We’re having young musicians come in all day ... they wow us every time someone gets onstage.” 

For more information visit dime-detroit.com or call 313-223-1600.

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