What is NAMM and its Purpose?
January signifies the beginning of the calendar year and, for those in the Musical Instrument Industry, the time for the NAMM Show. Around this time of the month, manufacturers and retailers alike start to run specials with terms like “NAMM Show Specials” or “New at NAMM.”
Some may wonder, “what is the NAMM Show?” and might remember that it’s “a Trade-show thingy or something.” To those that asked the question, it is a “Trade-show thingy” and it is something. The NAMM Show is a big deal to retailers and music manufacturers and means little to everyone else, but what comes out of it is cool for everyone.
NAMM is old, very old and stands for the National Association of Music Merchants. It started back in 1901 as a consortium of piano dealers that wanted to share ideas on business acumen and also make sure they were keeping up with best practices from other industries. Throughout it’s history, they’ve been keenly aware that they needed to be involved in promoting music at-large. When you see the VH1 “Save the Music” campaigns, for instance, much of that is funded by NAMM. The idea is to make more music makers in an effort to sell more gear. It’s easy for those in the not-for-profit NAMM organization to rest well at night because, promoting music making is still noble, even if there is a monetary benefit to a retailer or manufacturer.
Some of the older folks in the industry tell of their first NAMM Shows they attended back in the 1970’s. Back then, the show was held in the basement of the Disneyland Hotel. By the 80’s they had all grown up and moved into the Anaheim Convention Center. There are some sordid tales of hookers and blow, but I was busy buying dice caps for my BMX then. A Summer NAMM Show was added in the 80s as well and was most popularly associated with Chicago. Nowadays, that Summer Show is usually held in Nashville and has been reduced much in size, so that the Winter Show is the “it” show for the Music Instrument, or “MI”, Industry in the US. Ze Germans couldn’t stand the idea of all of that sun and fun being had by musicians, so they went and made and even bigger show in Frankfurt called Musikmesse. This is held in March, usually, and features cold and dank weather, gray skies and indoor smoking right in the halls of the show.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE?
The NAMM Show (let’s assume I’m always talking about the Winter NAMM Show) has always been the place to be in order to see what is new and cutting edge for musicians. Herein lies one problem with the NAMM shows lately. There hasn’t been something to create a real buzz on the show floors in quite some time. Previous hits were products like Roland’s VS880, Alesis’ ADAT or Yahama’s DX7. But, I can’t remember the last time I was at the show and people kept coming up to me saying, “dude, have you checked out so-and-so’s thus n’ such?” It seems like year after year we keep saying to one another, “man, nothing – there is nothing really new.” Which only means we are due.
At last year’s show you started to see products that are tailored to the iPad and I expect to see way more such devices this year. This is also the year people assume we’ll see more Ethernet connections on hardware and products utilizing Apple’s new Thunderbolt connectivity. Software products, on the whole, are really incredible in what they offer. But, with them it has been cool features and a lot of power that inches along from version to version. So, you’ll see something and say, “oh good – they added that in there – perfect.” But, you never walk away thinking, “oh my lord, everything has changed!” As I said before, we are due for one such show that will “change everything”, but lately that sort of thing is coming from the consumer world (read: tablets, smart phones) and that’s okay too.
For “industry insiders” it’s still important for everyone to gather, make sure we are all still here and kick around ideas – perhaps have a few beverages. For artists that attend, they are eager to pass out press packages and seek endorsements. This can be very valuable for gear manufacturers really. But, only if the manufacturer’s rep they are speaking with has a brain.
I went to NAMM and kept seeing this kid who hung out in the booth way too much. Every year from the late 90s into the early 2000s he’d show up in the booth and say, “I’m Printz Board with The Black Eyed Peas, remember me?” He’d stand there and tell me how his band was blowin’ up and that we should endorse him, give him some gear and he’d give me the latest recordings and press stuff. Then, he’d play instruments, talk and talk and talk and leave and then come back a couple of hours later. This would happen over the course of a couple of days at each show. One year, after he left the booth, I turned to my friend and said, “who are The Black Eyed Peas and who gives a @#&k?!?!” About a day later they exploded on the scene and have been the most successful musical act in the last decade – monetarily speaking. Needless to say, I don’t work in artist relations and you shouldn’t take stock tips from me.
Apart from my stupidity, it is important for the NAMM Show to continue as its revenue is then used for school grants, lobbying on behalf of the music industry and for donating instruments to poor school districts for starters. It is important for retailers and manufacturers to see each other face to face and communicate ideas to each other. This is a great time for retailers to meet the people making the products they sell. The NAMM Show is when manufacturers get the best feedback on what is or what is not working in their product offerings. For the end user? You? Hopefully, some mind-blowing products will come out of such gatherings in the future.