Dublin's edgy new School of Rock


PR0FILE: DIT’S DEGREE COURSE IN MODERN MUSIC:Applications are rushing in for the first degree course of its kind in the State, but can the programme deliver as the music business continues to struggle?

A NEW WAVE of sound is poised to flow from Dublin. Next September, budding musicians, producers, and promoters will begin an innovative degree course in Commercial Modern Music, run by the Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM) at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

They’ll be in good company at the college “run by musicians for musicians”. Alumni from BIMM’s Brighton and Bristol outlets include The Kooks, Beth Rowley, several members of The Ordinary Boys, and Kate Nash, the first unsigned artist to have a number one album on iTunes.

At first glance, BIMM’s decision to set up in Dublin seems a bold – if not downright foolhardy – move. By international standards, Dublin is a relatively small city. It is painfully losing its young to emigration. Some of the city’s popular music venues are at risk of closure due to the unsustainable cost of rents, with the much-loved Sin É being the latest casualty. And that’s before taking into account the likelihood of further cuts in the third-level education sector, which may directly affect students on the new DIT course.

Sarah Clayman, managing director of BIMM, believes that Dublin is the ideal place for the organisation to dip its toe beyond British shores. “There’s always an excuse not to set up a business,” she says. “We’re not frightened off by Ireland’s current economic climate, and we have long-term aspirations in Dublin. Ireland has a great music history, and Dublin has lots of live venues. Even the buskers are of a high calibre.”

BIMM isn’t about instant fame, say past and former students. The courses give students a broad overview of the modern commercial music industry, encompassing promotion, recording, production, staging, session skills, technical development, music business, sight reading, and of course, performance. The Irish course is also expected to include a module in traditional Irish music, but this has yet to be confirmed.

The majority of BIMM graduates don’t go on to top the charts, but many have gone on to work in other areas of the music business. “If you want to be famous, go on The X Factor,” Clayman says with disarming bluntness. “We help our students to discover what’s unique about themselves, and this doesn’t happen overnight.”

BIMM Dublin will create over 90 full and part-time jobs, with many of these taken up by an impressive list of musicians.

BIMM is keen to ensure that its teachers are all practicing, working musicians. Tutors on the new course include singer-songwriter Cathy Davey, Boss Volenti and Spring Break guitarist Dan O’Connor, JJ72 founder Mark Greaney, and The Frames’ drummer Graham Hopkins.

The arrival of the new course will provide students with an opportunity to attain a degree-level qualification in modern, commercial music. Students will choose to focus on guitar, bass, drums, vocals or song writing.

Students can also look forward to master classes from international artists who are in the city. UK students have been treated to sessions with Jeff Beck, Beverley Knight, Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand, Michael Eavis (founder of the Glastonbury Festival) and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The idea for BIMM emerged in late 1999, when four people in the music industry crossed paths.

In 2001, BIMM opened its doors to a modest intake of 150 students. Six years later, they opened a second college in Bristol. The college now has well in excess of 1,000 students and thousands more alumni.

Industry experts and music educators believe there is a pent-up demand for a commercial music course in Ireland. Until now, students interested in a third-level music education were confined to the Newpark School of Music’s jazz programme, UCD’s heavily theoretical Bachelor of Music, or DIT’s education- and classically-focused music degrees. The Ballyfermot College of Further Education also run a “School of Rock”, but not to degree level.

Tony Perrey is founder of Pulse Recording College which is well-established and private and trains students in music production and sound engineering. Perrey believes that the new DIT programme will complement, rather than rival, the work of his college. “Having a pool of talented musicians with an awareness of modern commercial music will be a good thing for both Dublin and the industry,” he says.

Jim Lawless, manager of The Coronas and events officer with the Music Managers Forum agrees that the traditional method of receiving music is dead. “The internet and illegal downloading have changed the industry, and it’s important that musicians are more than just artists. They need to be aware of new technologies, and they need to know how to stand out and get noticed. Many people who study music end up in other parts of the industry – they may, for example, leave college and realise they enjoy publishing.”

Mark Crossingham, managing director of Universal Music Ireland, says that although they don’t expect budding musicians to understand the record industry, it can help. Record companies receive hundreds of unsolicited demos every week; acts need to ensure that their offering is well presented, and that they have a strong image. It’s precisely this well-rounded approach that BIMM hopes to cultivate.

Already, in advance of any major publicity, over 150 applications have been received for approximately 100 initial places. The students will receive a DIT accredited degree but BIMM, a private institution, will be paid per student by the Department of Education for delivering the course. This partnership model in course delivery was one of the main recommendations in the recently published Hunt Report on higher education.

Behind the scenes or on stage, it’s conceivable that BIMM will leave a huge impact on Dublin’s music scene. BIMM Dublin will be running gigs throughout the academic year, with student gigs happening across the city, all open to the general public. BIMM’s first class, set to graduate in 2015, will have first dibs on access to this key demographic. Successful musicians will emerge from BIMM Dublin. The only question is who they will be.

Been there, done that

The Irish Timescontacted five students of BIMM. All spoke very highly of their college.

“I’m studying songwriting at BIMM Brighton,” says one, “and the experience has changed my life. The tutors and facilities are fantastic and we get offered phenomenal opportunities; I’m applying for an internship at Warner music. The courses have all been written to incorporate music industry lessons, which opens up more doors into the music business.”

Another student, completing his final year of a BA Hons, majoring in guitar, says the course develops as a direct result of consultation with students: “While there aren’t many graduates who’ve gone on to “live the rock’n’roll dream”, people come away with a realistic perspective on what it really takes to be a pro and earn a living as a musician. A lot of kids come to BIMM thinking that someone will give them a golden ticket to stardom, but there are no short cuts and easy answers.”

Views from ex-students differ enormously on how useful a music college education is, but most of those people either knew enough to get on with it in the first place or approached the experience with the “make me a star” attitude.