A NAMM Show Report by Lars Mullen

Lars Mullen goes to Winter NAMM 2018 in California

Performing Artist at the NAMM Show 2018


For those of you who have read my report on Summer NAMM in these pages, you will already be aware that NAMM (North American Music Merchants) was founded in 1901 and is one of the largest music product trade shows in the world. You’ll also be aware that NAMM is held annually in Music City Centre in Nashville in June (known as Summer NAMM) and, at the Convention Centre in Anaheim, Los Angeles, California in January (known as Winter NAMM)….so, as we are all NAMM’ed up, I don’t have to explain all that again.

It’s Winter NAMM time, January 2018 in Los Angeles California, palm trees and sunny blue skies, a little different to last year, when it was dull and rainy.

A chilly wet 4.30pm start from Heathrow airport, London is far more appealing than previous Trans Atlantic mid-day flights I have taken having to wake up at silly o’clock to check in. Great flight and food from Air New Zealand and the 10 hr 50 min journey seemed like a doddle…until the time change; 8 hrs behind to USA time. It’s 3 a.m. in my head on arrival and with another hour on the shuttle bus I see Anaheim on the horizon along with my hotel which is in walking distance to the Convention Centre.

The surrounding area in every direction for miles and miles is purpose built for tourism and business parks, and of course Disneyland is right next door to the show. One day I’ll get a ride on the log flume. Right now though, with jet lag and a shuttle bus full of over anxious Mickey Mouse fans, it’s not at the top of my wish list.

The Winter NAMM Show 2018

The NAMM Show is the ultimate stage for all communities within music, sound and event technologies, a chance to group and showcase new products to the industries press and potential dealers new and old.

The latest figures released for the 2018 Anaheim show indicate no less than 1,931 exhibitors (a growth of 9% on 2017) showcasing over 7,000 brands to over 115,000 attendees (here we see a growth of 7.6%). New for 2018 is the venue’s ACC North Hall with two levels which has expanded the NAMM Campus by 20%, luckily there are plenty of escalators for tired legs.

Day one then and registration for journalists is straight forward. First stop is an early visit to the press room to stock up on the latest events and last minute info on new products, and to get in the queue for coffee and doughnuts, the Journo’s sturdy stodge to help walk the floors.

After a gentle start and a wave to all the familiar faces, it’s time to get serious with meetings and appointments and already at just 11.am, it’s obvious, this is going to be a very busy show.

Whilst the Nashville event is buzzing and everything’s….’cool dude, Stetsons boots and smart denims jeans’, Anaheim is a chainsaw of fire and brimstone and everything theatrical as bands in full costume promote their merchandise, isn’t music supposed to be entertainment?

Namm Show 2018

Don’t get the wrong idea though, there are smartly dressed business people, but no one bats an eyelid when a guy in a suit and briefcase roller skates through the halls, with a parrot on each shoulder….this is California, anything goes at this music fair.

I was interviewed by one of the many camera crews, and a flustered lady with microphone asks me to sum up the show in 5 words. “Hmmm, let me think.” “No time she says, just say Oh my God, it’s amazing!” Yeah, well it is, but I was thinking of something a bit more constructive.

I have to say though, it is amazing, especially the new and innovative products at this year’s show. You have to ask yourself how many times the wheel can be reinvented? Surely it’s all been done before, a guitar is a guitar, a drum is a drum, but no, you can bet your Mickey Mouse souvenir ears that someone will come up with a totally new design concept, or an alternative answer to an age old problem that we didn’t realised wasn’t actually a problem.

Some of the big names have also chosen Winter NAMM to celebrate anniversaries, Orange amplifiers and Rotosound strings, two iconic British companies celebrating 50 and 60 years respectively in the music business.

It’s noisy, of course it is, and the ‘noise police’ glide around with their sound measuring gadgets to make sure demonstrators keep below the mandatory 85 decibels. This isn’t excessive by any means and at first you wonder why this figure is the sound limit, it’s actually the same as your average petrol lawn mower.

Day two is when it really kicks off, and Hall D is humming, the competition is hot, literally hundreds of guitarists, bass players and drummers are at it at the same time, playing different riffs in different keys….that petrol mower just got very loud.

Soundproof whisper booths strategically located around the floors, are once again the ideal location to sign that special deal in relative silence, and the rules say ‘no instruments allowed’. Some of the big names in the industry actually command their own suites three floors up, rather like the quiet lull of a posh hotel lounge where comfort abounds.

It’s part of my job to cover the show and write about new products for the media, and once again I’m amazed at how some big named brands (who I won’t mention) are so unorganised when it comes to press packs and personnel to talk to me about new products, let alone not having any business cards.

Double Bass

While rock and roll is arguably the biggest theme, NAMM features plenty of traditional instruments and, while rock and roll dominates, music technology and education is also massive with scores of new apps and software, whilst the very busy DJ and Pro Audio halls are a whole different NAMM city in itself. Like Summer NAMM, Winter is not totally dedicated to musical instruments.

Thousands of people actually attend this four day event without the hustle and bustle of the show, they’re here to take part in hundreds of training sessions, seminars and boot camps held in packed auditoriums on multiple topics, including distribution, marketing, music retail, event technology and audio production.

It’s also a breath of fresh air to wander around the quieter halls dedicated to all things brass and acoustically wooden. Ukuleles have been outselling guitars and drums for a long time, hence, the uke areas are impressive to say the least. Fusion endorsee Victoria Vox displayed her dexterity on the ukulele and her incredible jaw-dropping mouth trumpet technique.

Victoria Vox

Fusion at the NAMM Show 2018

Lars Mullen at the Mixware Booth Namm Show 2018

usion gig bags were keeping up appearances once again with a fine display on the Mixware stand, the company’s USA distributor and it certainly wasn’t hard to spot Fusion gig bag owners on the hoof.

Fusion bags at the show

Whilst the show’s air conditioning keeps us cool, evenings are cooler in more ways than one. The NAMM Jam is a must for rockers with the likes of Clem Burke (Blondie drummer), bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Phil X among the musicians lifting the roof in the grand ballroom of the Hilton Hotel, this isn’t for the faint hearted or anyone with sensitive hearing.

Once again it’s hats off to the NAMM web site designers, for the layout, speed and brand info delivered in a nanosecond. There’s no argument this is the biggest and most exciting music trade show in the world. I didn’t cover all the floors, however, according to my wrist Fit Bit I walked 46.8 miles in the four days, on sugar doughnuts, coffee… and just a few beers!

Lars Mullen.


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