Looking for stars? Try BIMM
Spotted a famous musician in Dublin recently? There’s a fair chance they were coming out of DIT’s school of commercial music. Situated on Francis Street in Dublin 8, the British and Irish Institute of Modern Music (BIMM) holds regular masterclasses for its students with world-class musicians: Imelda May, Danny O’Donoghue of The Script, Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain and even Hozier have paid surprise visits. US singer-songwriter John Grant offered a songwriting masterclass. U2’s The Edge has attended a BIMM graduation ceremony.
All of the tutors at BIMM are working musicians or industry professionals, and it’s this expertise that is teaching the students how to build a career in music. There’s an impressive list of tutors working in the college: James Byrne (manager of Girl Band), Louise McNamara (one half of duo Heathers), Conor Adams (frontman with Cast of Cheers and one half of duo All Tvvins), Rory Doyle (drummer with Hozier), Tully Gunawardhana (acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composed and producer, founder and manager of The Chapters and who has played with acts including James Vincent McMorrow) , Ró Yourell and Kieran McGuinness of Delorentos and singer-songwriter Cathy Davey are just some of the 60 or so notable teachers.
“Students attend BIMM for many reasons ranging from an aim to have a sustainable career in the music industry to becoming a successful artist in their own right” says BIMM principal Alan Cullivan. “They could be a session musician, music teacher, studio sessions player, manager or promoter. Some students attend BIMM with the main aim of becoming a better musician and to have a degree with the transferrable skills that can be achieved with all honours degrees.”
We prefer our tutors to be current and active in the industry so they can pass on their first-hand experience to students in the ever-changing and evolving world of the music industry
BIMM prides itself on the fact that all the teachers are current music industry practitioners. “We prefer our tutors to be current and active in the industry so they can pass on their first-hand experience to students in the ever-changing and evolving world of the music industry,” says Cullivan. “The tutors dedicate varying amounts of time to teaching here in BIMM, and at times our tutors cannot commit to teaching because they are away touring or working on projects.”
The college was established in 2011 and it’s an offshoot of the Brighton Institute of Modern Music; alumni from its various branches include James Bay, Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds and Tom Odell. Closer to home, BIMM Dublin graduate Niall Cash has topped the iTunes singer-songwriter chart and is making a name for himself here.
Most of the BIMM alumni don’t go on to become big names, of course. But many are happy to build a career in the industry. Laura Mackey, a tutor at the college, has been playing guitar since she was a child, and she was a part of Dublin band Boss Volenti, who were nominated for a Choice Music Prize in 2007. She herself trained at the Newpark Music Centre in south Dublin and today she mixes part-time music teaching with post-doctoral research into health technologies at University College Dublin.
“Boss Volenti wound down around 2008 but I still loved playing music,” says Mackey. “I felt I was at a crossroads: do I develop a music school, or should I play in other bands? I decided to step away from music for a while and went back to study, doing a degree in physiotherapy at UCD from 2009 till 2013. Then, in 2014, I got a call from Alan in BIMM and he asked me to come and teach there.”
The music industry remains dominated by men and there are little or no female headliners playing at festivals. “There are a lot of women playing music but many of the instrumentalists are men. I’ve been in bands and playing guitar since my early teens and joined bands as soon as I could. BIMM were also interested in me because, having done a PhD in health literacy, I have a research background and can teach research skills; now, I teach one project class for the fourth-year students and one module in performativity and live music.”
At BIMM, the focus is on developing a suite of different skills, not just on being a great musician
Mackey says she loves keeping her hand in music and she is currently playing with some cover bands. Every year, one of her big music projects involves playing a full Led Zeppelin album with tribute act Whole Lotta Zepp. She says it is very possible to build a career in music, “At BIMM, the focus is on developing a suite of different skills, not just on being a great musician, and they learn about the industry and the business of music as well as mastering their instrument or voice.”