NAMM 2008 – A Primer for Music Makers

A surprise visit from the Santa Ana winds greeted a record-breaking 1,560 exhibitors and 88,128 attendees from around the world to kick off NAMM 2008 in Anaheim, CA last month. The acronym NAMM originally stood for the National Association of Music Merchants, but now has evolved to NAMM, the International Music Products Association. At close of show, NAMM reported a 4% increase in total attendance and a 7% increase in international attendees over last year.
Billed as “the largest music products trade show in United States,” the theme for this year’s 106th show was “define your future”—a variation on the most basic, mission critical component of branding practice ‘define or risk being defined’. The main purpose of the trade-only NAMM show is to bring sellers and buyers together to write business for the upcoming year. Exhibitors consisted of a mind-boggling mix of traditional music products (instruments) and accessory makers, plus music technology companies on both the hardware and software sides.
Congratulations were in order for Zildjian celebrating its 385 th anniversary and Gretsch celebrating its 125th anniversary. That’s longevity!
As expected, every exhibitor launched at least one new product while most launched many. No new offering reached the dizzying innovative heights as the iPhone, yet some fell into the unexpected category including Sabian’s new ‘Alu Bell’ aluminum cymbals in two sizes (7” and 9”) featuring a dome shape and narrow striking edge to create a clear, bell-like response. Voyage-air Guitar promoted acoustic and electric guitars incorporating its patented folding-neck technology qualifying the instruments as ‘carry-on’ airline luggage. Elixir Strings launched its first foray into accessories with patent-pending Elixir Cables. Optek showcased its Fretlight guitar that uses a USB computer connection and shows players where to put their fingers to play a particular note, scale, chord, or song, using glowing LED “press here” lights embedded in the fretboard. Gibson showed its Robot Guitar with six different tunings made capable with its electronic PowerTune technology. As expected, Digidesign launched ProTools 7.4.
Countless new packaging and point-of-purchase (POP) merchandising systems also made a strong showing aside a multitude of sales promotions, the most prevalent being contests and the distribution sell-in stalwart, volume discounts.
Beyond product, packaging, merchandising and promotional launches, mergers, acquisitions, partnerships, and distribution agreements proliferated at the show. Topping the list was Fender’s purchase of Kaman Music Corporation for a reported $117 million in cash that led the street to wonder if Guitar Center (Bain Capital) will try to acquire Fender within the next 18 months. Also announced was D’Addario’s purchase of PureSound Percussion, Yamaha’s purchase of piano maker Bosendorfer, Roland’s purchase of a controlling interest in Cakewalk, Fender’s agreement to distribute Taylor in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Gibson’s merger with Danish pro audio component maker TC Group, and a strategic partnership between Numark and New Zealand’s Serato Audio Research.
McDSP (McDowell Signal Processing) announced it is “going green” by discontinuing the production of individual boxed products. Once existing stock is depleted, McDSP individual products will only be sold electronically using dealer’s accounts to deposit authorizations directly. McDSP will also commence donating 1% of their annual revenue, not profit, to environmental causes in 2008.
Celebrity endorsement is a major driver in music products marketing, for better or worse, making famous musicians commoners on the show floor either speaking, performing or signing autographs. A tiny fraction include my personal favorite Monte ‘the acoustic Jimi Hendrix’ Montgomery for Alvarez Guitars, as well as John Legend, Isaac Slade (The Fray), Jon Anderson (Yes), Joe Satriani, Slash, Nikki Sixx, Glen Frey, Billy Sheehan, Vinnie Appice, Nuno Bettencourt, David Benoit, Carlos Santana, Brian McKnight, Dave Navarro, players from Black Label Society, Anthrax, Black Sabbath, Lamb of God, Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross’ bands, and the requisite members of Kiss in full, tongue-lolling regalia.
Coveted invitation-only evening parties included annual favorite Sabian Live and dealer events sponsored by Yamaha, Shure, and Sennheiser, among many others. Muriel Anderson’s standing room only All Star Guitar Night benefiting the Music for Life Alliance was an inspiring standout.
As Berklee’s official workforce development faculty advisor, my main mission was to accompany music business students to several NAMM-sponsored events including a Thursday morning welcome presentation by John Wittmann, Yamaha’s education and artist relations manager, a Friday morning internship and job fair followed by a meeting of music business faculty from colleges across the country, and a Saturday afternoon NAMM scholarship awards ceremony. Attending the show allowed me to continue growing student internship and job opportunities, source future guest speakers for music business classes, and to refresh the Music Products in Commerce course curriculum for next fall.
John Wittmann’s inspirational welcome and opening remarks to student attendees were particularly gratifying to me as he validated so much of the information we convey to our students as they transition from college to careers. A few statements John made elicited gasps from the startled audience. Of those, the first was his acknowledgment that he knows whether or not he’s interested in hiring a candidate within the first 30 seconds of their initial meeting. The second was his proclamation that “one typo in your cover letter or resume and you’re out of the running…if you cannot provide two pages of perfection for me, I do not want you on my team.” The action may be harsh but the rationale is inarguable. Calling “a great internship [is] critical to your future success,” John’s main points were:
Be focused, honest and genuine by presenting your “real self”
Be well prepared and engaging by knowing the values, growth, and challenges of the company you’re interviewing with
Show integrity and good manners by thanking all who provided you with assistance at any level
Focus on what is needed by the potential employer versus seeking to impress them
Fight the Gen X stigma of “entitlement” by showing your willingness to “earn it”
Avoid “landmines” including complaining, disparaging previous employers, and lack of knowledge about company you’re interviewing with
Maintain a “pristine electronic self” as prospective employer will research your presence on the Internet
Convey an “Mop Bucket Attitude” (MBA) meaning you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and tackle any job necessary
Remember names by repeating name, title, and color of eyes in your head
Have a business plan for yourself; failing to plan is planning to fail
Practice music advocacy by uplifting all and conversely, disrespecting none
Be current in the industry by knowing what’s going on, both at the corporate and product/service levels
Thursday was the day to take it all in. By Friday, students had a game plan and were working the show. Over 100 music business students attended the job and internship fair on Friday. Major manufacturers present included Yamaha, Roland, Line 6, and Remo. The music business faculty meeting also on Friday provided a once per year chance for me to meet other educators from around the country and consult with them on curriculum development and preparing students for careers in the music products sector. On Saturday I accompanied music business student Ana Molina ’08 as she received her NAMM scholarship and also had an opportunity to say hello to NAMM intern and MB/M graduate Robin Mayer ’07 who was working show registration.
MB/M student Charles Shaughnessy enjoyed an unexpected benefit of attending the show. He recalls “I walked by Jon Anderson (singer of symphonic prog group Yes) while waiting for the NAMM show to start on Thursday morning. I thought I might as well meet him and get my photo taken with him. We struck up a conversation and he asked me if I played guitar. When he I said yes, he asked me to play for him later at the Alvarez booth. I showed up around noon to witness a large crowd gathered around Jon, who was in the middle of a solo acoustic performance of Starship Trooper. When he finished, he saw me behind all of the people and yelled ‘Charlie, come on up here!’ As frightened as I felt prior to getting onstage to play an acoustic guitar in front of a large crowd (not to mention backing up one of the most iconic singers in rock history) I didn’t feel too intimidated. Leaning over to me, Jon whispered ‘I only know these two chords.’ Of course, that was not true but I did feel little more at ease. Needless to say, my parents, who are both huge Yes fans, were totally jealous when I informed them of my chance encounter and performance with Jon Anderson during the 2008 NAMM convention.”
Many students I’ve surveyed in class express disinterest for the products sector, generally favoring what they perceive as the more glamorous and exciting recording sector. Given record labels are in a chaotic state of flux, working for a music products manufacturer or service provider often offers greater stability, better pay and benefits, and faster growth tracks. In addition to brand, marketing and product managers, most manufacturers employ artist relations and special event managers. For some, the desire to work in music products is constant. For others, it is a steppingstone. To all I say, if not for the manufacturers, you’d have no instruments to play, no gear, no hardware or software to craft, perform and record your music. Music advocacy means recognizing there are important, interdependent roles for all of us to play in the big music industry we love so much.

By Stephanie Kellar
For more information on the show and its exhibitors, all four issues of UpBeat, the NAMM show daily, plus the NAMM 2008 Exhibitors Manual are available in the Music Business / Management Resource Center. Please visit the following sites for detailed music products sector information and statistics:
Music Trades magazine
Music Trades magazine complete NAMM 08 Product Recap
Musical Merchandise Review magazine


The NAMM Show site
NAMM, The International Music Products Association
NAMM’s William R. Gard Memorial Scholarship



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