Where No NAMM Has Gone Before

by George Petersen
in Editor's Note
George Petersen
George Petersen

To anyone that attended, this wasn’t just another NAMM show. Sure, it made its usual late-January appearance (Jan. 25-28, 2018), but this one was clearly different than past expos.

The NAMM organization has long been eyeing expansion of its scope to include the professional audio and event production industries, and from all accounts, successfully attained that objective. Yet this was no one-sided operation, as over the past few years, NAMM has entered into a series of strategic partnerships with organizations — such as NARAS, AES, the Parnelli Awards, TEC Awards, ESTA, Timeless Communications (FRONT of HOUSE/PLSN’s parent company), AE3, Audinate and others — to create an all-encompassing program of essential “extracurricular” activities to enhance the NAMM experience.

“NAMM members, alongside our partners and guests, deserve all the credit for creating such an incredibly powerful industry gathering,” affirmed Joe Lamond, NAMM President and CEO. “The ‘crossroads’ of industry pros, coupled with the passion and dedication to drive business forward, ensures an exciting year ahead for all aspects of music making and production.”

›› All About Vibe

And it worked. Some 115,085 registered industry professionals gathered to advance the industry during four days of the annual conference. Another key factor was the 20 percent increase in exhibit space thanks to the completion of the new Anaheim Convention Center North (ACC-North) facility. And dedicating the two floors of that new expanded space to pro audio and event production exhibits finally provided a home for pro users that was free of NAMM’s usual cacophony of drums, guitars, pianos and horns blaring in the background.

The overall vibe on the new exhibit floors in the ACC-North was much like an AES show from two decades ago. First of all, the joint was packed — and not simply with lookie loo’s, but with serious users. Also, the new halls were generally fairly quiet overall — hardly resembling an anechoic chamber — but certainly operating at a level that actually allowed attendees to have a conversation without the need to shout.

The new format also attracted new exhibitors into the NAMM world. Lin Buck of Adamson Systems Engineering — an ACC-North exhibitor — has been attending The NAMM Show for the past 15 years and shared that “for years I’ve wanted something like this to happen. The expansion to pro audio and technology is so important because it’s a different market but here at the show, it brings us together.”

Jesse Gutierrez from Mega Systems, an event production company offering lighting, media processing and trussing, says that NAMM brings a new opportunity for their business: “I love it, because it’s all about the gear and what musicians are into. To see a tradeshow revolve around music — from orchestras to full bands — it’s a great experience and opportunity for us.”

›› Timing is Everything

In many ways, the success of the “new” NAMM also benefitted from fortuitous timing — ACC-North was being completed just about the time that AES decided to drop its biennial Los Angeles conventions in favor of annual New York shows. This led to the opportunity to present AES workshops and programs as part of the new “AES@NAMM” events, which were well received. Likewise, the Parnelli Awards’ move to the Anaheim Hilton during NAMM was an overwhelming success.

On the outside, the timing issue that was perhaps less visible comes from the January dates of NAMM itself. Coming a few months before Easter, NAMM is ideally suited to serve the house of worship community, where many congregations plan to have the installation of new gear — audio, video and lighting — completed before the holy season. Here, the timing of NAMM is ideal, where new products and technologies can be launched right on time for this market, and the same applies to providers looking to upgrade in time for the busy summer touring/event months. Not to be ignored is that fact that a tradeshow just after the New Year takes place during a month that’s traditionally a slow time for sound companies. Even the weather cooperated — convincing pros to attend a show in sunny Southern California in the dead of winter doesn’t require a huge degree of persuasion.

And this appeal also spilled across the borders. International attendees increased by 8 percent with representation from over 100 countries totaling 19,356 registrants. Compared to Musikmesse/Prolight+Sound, NAMM now offers a solid alternative for the world market, especially when comparing the appeal of sunny Anaheim with wintery Frankfurt.

›› Ups and Downs

All of this is well and good, but results mean everything. Having spoke to nearly 200 sound reinforcement manufacturers during the show, I didn’t encounter a single exhibitor that wasn’t positive about the new NAMM, particularly in terms of the quality of the attendees and the ability to communicate in a professional environment.

Not that everything was perfect. At times, the lines to get through the security checkpoints to enter the halls were ridiculously long. One simple solution to ease this crunch might be to issue festival-style wristbands (color-coded for exhibitors/buyers/guests/etc., in addition to the usual name badges) that could speed entry and lessen the congestion.

With a unified exposition approach and a wealth of educational opportunities, NAMM is moving ahead and in the right direction to serve the often-intertwined communities of M.I., pro audio and event production. There’s room for a few tweaks, but this show is definitely on the right track. Well done, NAMM!

Note: For more on NAMM 2018, turn to page 14 for the FRONT of HOUSE NAMM Show Report and page 30 for our recap of the Parnelli Awards gala.

For FOH editor George Petersen's video introduction to the Feb. 2018 issue, go to http://www.fohonline.com/main-news/18046