Founded in 1901, the North American Music Merchants show (NAMM), is one of the largest music product trade shows in the world.
Held annually in January at the massive Convention Centre in Anaheim, California USA and June at the Music City Centre in Nashville, these two shows are acknowledged by the music industry as Winter and Summer NAMM.
It’s here where journalists from all over the world struggle with jet lag and regimentally shoot photos and videos, gather news on all the latest gear from guitars to glass flutes to announce in their relative press outlets.
Summer, is a more relaxed event that doesn’t quite have the crazy, rock-circus Mardi Gras atmosphere that is traditional at the ‘Winter’ show where, around 6,000 brands are represented by no less than 1,700 exhibitors spread over several floors of the Anaheim Convention Centre, attracting close to 100,000 visitors.
According to figures released by the organisation, the three day Summer NAMM 2017 held between June 28th- 30th attracted nearly 14.5k visitors, with no less than 1,650 brands represented by 505 exhibitors from all over the planet. Attendance for the Saturday’s Industry Day when the doors are open to the public, was up 26% on 2016. Foot traffic was up 2% compared to 2016 and international attendees grew by14% over 2016, and nearly 28% growth over 2015.
In reality, this simply means the music industry has an upward growth looking very positive in the USA, especially in Nashville, the USA’s glittering hub of country music where over 100 bands play venues in and around the Broadway area every night. Tight jeans, cowboy hats, boots and long hair are the dress code and that’s just the men! The girls dress just the same!
With so many famous venues in Central Nashville including the Johnny Cash Museum, the Ryman Auditorium, the country Music Hall of Fame, it’s no wonder hotels in and around the area are fully booked. If you were lucky enough to get a room close enough to be up, bright and bushy tailed and get to the show each morning at 8.30 am, a free breakfast was available in the Grand Ballroom on a first come-first served basis. By the time I got there each day they were wheeling away the breakfast! Thankfully the press and media room is well stocked with coffee and cakes, so that’s the first port of call, journalists need their coffee before the daily 7.7 mile walk (according to my phone app) working the show floor.Compared to Winter, which is laid out over several floors, summer NAMM basically takes up one floor... the size of a very large supermarket. Journalists looking down from the press room windows could be misguided in thinking their work here could be complete in just one day, far from it. If the job is to cover all new products from the likes of sound and light, all fretted instruments, amplification, brass and percussion etc, a strategy and a well thought out work plan is a must. Many a time in the last hour of a closing NAMM show and after spending far too long talking, I panic just thinking how to fit in so many more clients I haven’t seen yet. But you have to build relationships with brands and how can you say no to the offer of a cold beer from the tiny fridge behind the curtain on their stand?
There’s plenty of blues/rock guitar playing at Summer NAMM 2017 as potential customers, dealers and distributors test drive the latest amps, guitars and effects, but inevitably, it’s the sonic waves of fingerpicking, flat picking, blue grass, country and country blues on electric and acoustic guitars, banjos and fiddles that dominate the sound waves throughout this show.Sound bursts are to be expected, but show staff are constantly monitoring levels to keep it all at a comfy medium. If it all becomes too loud for the business men to make the all important deal, they might like to disappear into one of the sound-proof Whisper Rooms, all various sizes dotted around the show floor. The smaller two-man units resembled 18th Century sedan chairs parked at intervals in the aisles whist others are big enough for folk to get down and dirty with an acoustic maybe or large enough to hold a small conference or business meeting.
Whilst I’m from the pen and paper brigade and feel good with the show’s excellent fold-out floor guide which is rammed with all the info I’d ever need, I must salute the NAMM phone app which I found very user friendly. This not only had all exhibitor listings, I could also bookmark all my appointments, and keep an eye on all live events, these included brands eager to demonstrate new products in the halls and acts on the Reverb stage outside in the scorching heat. Much merriment was underway (and a beer at last!) outside where the World’s fasted drummer contest was a big draw along with a cool line up of country music bands.
Fingerpicking aside, which is an art in itself, it’s visitors trying to sing country music that can embarrass the locals... you need far more than base singing skills, mimicking that infectious country drawl has to come from the heart, if it ain’t in yer blood, don’t try it.
It’s not just an instrument fest, both Winter and Summer NAMM offer training sessions and seminars where important speakers set the picture on new strategies giving new insights and ideas to succeed in such a competitive market. Other important events on a daily basis included the Retail Boot camp, intensive training for retailers covering sales, marketing, distribution, networking and financial management.
The Grand Ballroom above Music City was the place to drop in on immediately after the show for the chance of a complimentary beer and a quick bite, again first come first served. I’m late again and arrive just in time to see the food trolleys being wheeled away yet again. It’s here, in the cavernous ballroom that the all important announcements are made including the many ‘Best Of’ awards like the top products at the show, the finest 100 dealers and so on. There’s no lack of after show in-house entertainment either, after finally getting my hands on a cool beer at the opening show party, the likes of Patti Smith, Crystal Gale and Harry Shearer performed and received gongs from the American Eagle Awards.
Fusion of course, are a regular exhibitor at Winter and Summer NAMM, this year represented by their USA distributor Mixware based in California, who had a fine selection on display from Fusion’s vast catalogue of high quality instrument gig bags.
A small point, but a massive help for the journo’s show action plan, was the NAMM web site, top marks from me here, for the layout, speed and brand info at the click of a mouse.
Next up then is ‘Winter’ NAMM scheduled for 25th – 28th January 2018 in Anaheim California. With the addition of a new 100,000 square foot (old school... yay!) building. It’s even bigger and I’m told it will offer more room for exhibitors within lighting, live sound and event technologies.
Walking shoes, fit bit and energy bars ready to go, 8 miles a day (12.8748 kilometres, for the decimo folk) No problem.
For more information on Winter and Summer NAMM visit www.namm.org