Social Impact Heroes: How Sarah Clayman and DIME are helping talented music students find their path and create new opportunities
Helping young people find their path and create new opportunities is something we are very proud of. Many young creatives are uninspired by traditional education, some haven’t been successful at high school and some have had to fight their parents to study music and follow what truly makes them happy. Seeing all the students succeed musically and academically is wonderful and seeing their parents, family and friends witness their growth is rewarding.
As a part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Clayman.
DIME founder Sarah Clayman, and partner Kevin Nixon are no strangers to the music industry, with prolific backgrounds and experience across the music world, the two have played a part in the careers of superstars like The Police, Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin, Kula Shaker, Prince and Pete Townsend amongst many others. Following the death of artist and friend, singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl, Kevin & Sarah were inspired to leave their roles in music management and marketing to begin to build something of their own. Wanting to give back and inspire a new generation of talent, the two birthed BIMM, the Brighton Institute of Modern Music (some of the notable alumni include James Bay, George Ezra and Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds). BIMM quickly found success and became a go-to for music education. Kevin and Sarah, excited about what they’d accomplished in the UK, decided to take their vision Stateside, and launched DIME (Detroit Institute of Music Education).
DIME is a group of music institutes dedicated to teaching the next generation of modern musicians and entrepreneurs. DIME offers advanced music students an affordable and exciting unique study experience in contemporary music, with expert musicians and music industry professionals teaching programs in performance, songwriting and music industry studies. Nixon and Clayman launched DIME DETROIT in 2014, joining the effort to revitalize and reinvigorate Detroit’s music landscape.
DIME has since expanded to Denver with the same vision to elevate Downtown Denver’s arts and culture scene. Their partnership with Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), a university accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and full member in good standing of National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), allows MSU Denver bachelor’s degrees in music area disciplines to be offered at DIME’s Detroit and brand-new Denver location. DIME offers BA (Hons) degrees through DIME ONLINE in academic partnership with Falmouth University. The DIME ONLINE programs, BA (Hons) in Creative Songwriting, Music Entrepreneurship and Creative Performance (pursuing excellence in guitar and drums), are delivered entirely online, allowing students true flexibility in their studies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Sarah! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It all started when Kev (Nixon, co-founder of DIME) and I met in 1996. He was managing a band signed to Columbia Records, UK, and I worked as International Promotions Manager. The band was Kula Shaker and had quick success in the UK, which led to my involvement internationally. Quite quickly, we realized that people were not being trained to be in the music industry and unless you had an ‘in’ and knew someone, it was a hard industry to get into. We wanted to open up the industry for young people who were passionate about music.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started DIME?
They have been so many! My day-to-day is very varied, I could be sat at my desk looking and working through spreadsheets all day, or shooting a video! My work-life is extreme! When we first opened DIME, Madonna did a walk-through of our space, but when she arrived, she needed ‘time-out’ as she’d had a hectic day. So, I showed her up to the bathroom, and she hung in there alone for 20 mins … while I waited outside! That was weird! May be not interesting …
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ha! When we were running our UK colleges, I booked a run of print ads in the wrong magazine! At that time, print magazines had high circulation numbers and were a great way to reach our target audience. We decided early on that we want to market the institute like a band, and intentionally all our adverts looked more like record sleeves than advertising. It was a great campaign.
The ad run was for 6 months and when the sales person heard my confirmation, they sounded completely shocked! It was hearing that tone that I realized my mistake and hung up quickly! I panicked, took a deep breath and called them back to cancel! I was very embarrassed but came clean — it was awkward, to say the least!
And the lesson I learned was we all make mistakes, we are only human. So, own your mistakes, come clean, apologize but don’t make the same mistake twice.
Can you describe how you or DIME is making a significant social impact?
Helping young people find their path and create new opportunities is something we are very proud of. Many young creatives are uninspired by traditional education, some haven’t been successful at high school and some have had to fight their parents to study music and follow what truly makes them happy. Seeing all the students succeed musically and academically is wonderful and seeing their parents, family and friends witness their growth is rewarding. We also hear students say things like ‘I thought I was a freak before I came to DIME, but now I have found my people and I finally feel that I belong’ — that’s powerful.
DIME graduates are working in today’s music industry and many are choosing to stay in their hometown. That’s a big deal for Detroit, and the community is already seeing the benefits of academically qualified individuals working in the industry.
Detroit’s music scene is still centered around Motown, yet many students who want to study music are forced to choose between a classical or jazz experience. Why are modern musicians not celebrated academically?
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by DIME (a student’s success story, retention rates, etc)?
Many of our students are impacted by DIME. For instance, there is a young singer from Detroit, Devin Woodson — he is graduating this year, after being at DIME for 4 years. So firstly, can we celebrate him getting his degree in 4 years!
When he first came, the only way he could get to DIME was to ride with his uncle who worked nearby, so he would arrive at 7 am, wait outside until we opened at 9.30 am, be here all day, and then his uncle would pick him up at 6 pm — that’s dedication for you. He would stand outside at 7.30 am for 2 hours, with his headphones in, and sing, sing, sing! He has since moved into an apartment next door to DIME — so we continue to see him every day! During his time at DIME, he has achieved academically, and also vocally — he has sung for Blue Note Records President Don Was at his annual event during ‘Concert of Colors’, and recorded an Allen Stone Cover video that we sent to Allen, who loved it! He’s also performed it on Detroit’s WDIV — Live In The D.
We have just launched a fellowship with Applebaum Family Philanthropy, where 6 students received additional funds to develop a Community based project that impacts people in need. Devin is one of the Fellows, and is co-chair of the group, completing last semester with 100% attendance and 3.93 GPA.
Devin now has an interview at NYU to complete a Master’s Degree. Super proud of him and all the other students who love music, want to learn and develop and are part of the DIME Family.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish I understood that even though English and American people speak the same language, they are so many cultural differences; we should not assume we understand each other! There have been many times over the last 6 years, that I have said or explained something to an American colleague, yet only recently do I recognize the particular look I get back when they have no idea what I just said! There are is a great book written by John Sopel, a BBC News correspondent called ‘If Only They Didn’t Speak English’ that talks honestly and humorously about this subject — it’s a necessary read for any Brit working in the US.
- ‘That You Never Stop Learning’ — the minute I hit a problem, or a challenge that I haven’t come across before, I buckle down with my adult brain telling me ‘you can do this, just one more hurdle’. It may take me months to get over the hurdle, I feel a huge sense of relief and accomplishment, just to get hit in the face with another problem or hurdle. It took me a while to understand that this is the journey of being an entrepreneur and being one of the first programs who are challenging traditional music programs and asking questions that start with why?.
For example, at DIME we are passionate about hiring teachers who are, or who have had, successful careers in the music industry yet may not have academic qualifications that comply with our University partner’s policy’s and views of the Chair of the Music Department. We have spent 5 years working towards a happy place between the two views. At times, it has been very challenging, and I am sure we will not agree on everything, but a recent review from the Higher Learning Commission, supports all the hires so we can continue to employ from the industry. The benefits the students get by learning from people with real-life working experience is invaluable.
3. I wish someone told me ‘how to balance work and life’ — I still struggle with this — when I decide to do something, I am totally committed to it 150%, even if I want to give up when I get hard, I know I never will. I think that in 2020 it’s even more important to look after yourself and manage your time. Social media can have a huge impact on one’s day-to-day life and mental health, sitting at a desk all day can be physically damaging, affecting mobility, eating habits, eye-sight (I have to wear glasses to read my emails now), sitting and typing can cause repetitive strain injuries and other skeletal issues — the list goes on. And the key to it all is to not do too much of one thing. It seems obvious right!? But getting the balance right is not as easy, I find it hard to press pause and to give myself a break.
Only last semester did I discipline myself to spend more time in the classrooms, so now, whether I’m in Detroit or Denver, I get up and walk around, and talk to students and faculty. It’s a great reminder of why I do what I do — the students are inspiring to be around and keep me feeling young(er!). I learn from them every day, it’s their views that are most important to Kev and me, and everyone at DIME.
4. I just had this conversation with the team at Applebaum Family Philanthropy and the Applebaum at DIME Fellows. LISTEN — it’s a hard skill to develop, and even when we feel like we are listening, are we really? I have a habit of quickly making up my mind on something, or visualizing what a project should be — yet, when I work through it, and revisit and rework and revisit — I realize that I may have missed a really important element because I wasn’t listening … I was listening only to my views and opinion.
I was brought up by 2 incredible parents. Both entrepreneurs, with my mum modeling and acting (She was in The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour! and the promotion for James Bonds ‘Live and Let Die’ film!), and my Dad who is a concert promoter, and in his 80’s still working at Live Nation in London. He is an incredible man and taught me many great life lessons. The first is ‘always try your best’, it doesn’t matter if you succeed, as long as you have tried. I think about that every day.
5. And the second is ‘get up, out of bed and start the day’. When I worked at Sony Music, he would call me at 7 am and say ‘you still in bed? You are not going to be successful if you lay in bed — get up!’ I’d explain that I was at a gig last night and didn’t get to bed until 2 am. He responds was always — ‘so what? Get up!’. Needless to say, I’m great at burning the candle at both ends!
I made a terrible and embarrassing mistake when I was touring with Prince in the early ’90s. I was Production Assistant on the UK and European Tour, and Prince and the band were performing in the stadiums and then doing the private club shows in the early hours of the morning. Well, I went to one-to-many in a row, and the next morning we had to leave the hotel at 6 am to get to the next city. Of course, I overslept and was an hour late down to the bus. The crew was mighty p**sed off at me! I was apologetic and embarrassed for weeks after! But I haven’t done it since!
What you are doing with DIME is making a difference in the lives of students. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Kev and I would make education free across the world. There are too many Universities that over-charged because they are not run like a business, there is a lot of waste, and encouragement to retake classes, and fumble your way through higher education. Courses can be flexible, taught online and set up with the student’s success in mind. We have seen some very questionable things in our careers.
There is also a responsibility to invest in the next generation — why are we here if we don’t do that, so the music industry, successful artists, producers, studios, record and publishing companies should be giving back more. If we all did, music education could be free.
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘Get up! You are not going to be a success laying in bed’ — Barry Clayman
Every 18 year old should hear this! Every day!
The other quote I live by is ‘If you can’t explain it simple, you don’t understand it well enough!” Albert Einstein.
For me, it’s all about the detail, so I will not promote, negotiate or argue anything unless I understand every detail. In a world of noise, I think this is a really important skill to have, it takes time, and often I am the one last in the office or working weekends and late into the night — so I understand every detail. Other leaders and CEOs who need to have an overview may take the opposite view, but how can you have an overview if you don’t understand the details?
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Barack and Michelle Obama — I’d beg them to return to politics and to the White House. I can’t deal with the leaders in the UK and US currently. But, as both countries know, it’s hard to find better right now. This is my issue: Politics are broken, it doesn’t work anymore, no one really wants to vote, as there are no great leaders. Why? because there is little investment in the next generation …
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!