Americans spend $21 per capita on music products, about as much as they spend today on recorded music. The figure exceeds concert grosses per head and also the total per capita music royalty collections by ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and the Harry Fox Agency.
Yet the only glimpse most musicians see of the world of products is at their local Guitar Center. A better vantage point is at Anaheim, California, in January. There, myriad manufacturers of music gear of all kinds, including instruments, music software, audio pro gear, and educational and promotional magazines like Guitar Player and Keyboard, meet in the greatest music products show on earth. If the NAMM show were open to the general public instead of being a trade-member-only event, it would host the largest crowd of any music trade show in the planet (that distinction goes to the open access Musikmesse in Frankfurt, Germany).
NAMM stands for the National Association of Music Merchants and their 2015 show of January 22-25 brought together more than 99, 000 registrants and 1,600 exhibiting companies, of which more than 300 were new. This was the largest show to date, demonstrating that a gentle world recovery combined with fast U.S. economic growth is driving higher purchases and updates of all kinds of music gear and accessories.
The music products industry in the U.S. has grown by an annual 2.8% rate over the last decade while recorded music sales have declined by nearly 5% every year. Overall, business grew by 32% while recorded music fell by 40%. As a result, the product business has been far more dependable as a source of employment than the record business, a fact that many musicians today ignore at their peril.
Yamaha, Roland, Sennheiser, Gibson, and Fender continue to be the top five global products companies, collectively grossing over $6 billion dollars. These companies not only help set standards for the smaller businesses; they are key to the health and stability of market.
Instrument makers are at the core of the NAMM show. Roland put forward its JD-XI and JD-XA hybrid synthesizers, a combination of analog and digital synthesis. EDM musicians have driven up sales of these synthesizers by as much as 20% this year, and this exhibit was twice as large as the year before. Yamaha debuted their new Transacoustic GC1TA and UT1A pianos, fully acoustic instruments with preset sounds and play-along capabilities. Gibson and Fender offered new versions of their vintage guitar models, including a hollow-body Les Paul (Gibson) and custom designed Strats (Fender).
Manufactures are addressing the needs of musicians on stage and on the go, relying more than ever on their day-to-day general use devices. Sennheiser, the wireless microphone and headphone pioneer, announced a partnership with Apogee Electronics, a maker of audio interfaces for iPad and iPhone.
Online collaboration tools were also popular. Avid announced ProTools 12 with Cloud Collaboration, and released a free promotional version. Cloud technology seems to have captured the imagination of smaller companies as well. JamHub displayed their M16 multi-track recorder, allowing the upload of a live recording directly to its BandLab cloud for sharing and editing.
NAMM’s annual report provides a different, more streamlined, view of the trends in the music products industry.
It makes clear that these are good times for the acoustic guitar. Shipments increased by nearly 3% in 2012-2013 but sale value rose by a staggering 13 %, for a total of $603.2 million. The trend still carries over to 2014 for a number of reasons, among them a folk/acoustic music revival and the prevalence of EDM music (possibly diminishing the role of electric guitar sounds, just like disco music did in the 1980s).
Music products rely on electronic components and are ever more sophisticated, allowing vendors to fetch higher prices. However, this seems to hurt students and the debt-ridden under-30 demographic, tilting the purchasing balance of high-end products towards older age groups with more discretionary income. Still, the industry seems to have done well overall over the last decade, especially considering the record of other trades during the Great Recession.
A concern of NAMM officials, and the many sellers there, is the growth of used music gear. Online platforms like Craigslist, Ebay, and Facebook groups are creating an effective parallel market in secondhand products. A number of industry panels discussed new ways for retailers to turn the traction from these online services back to their storefronts.
An online used music market started in earnest with Netscape and the World Wide Web in the late 1990s and will continue, in all likelihood, to be a threat to gear retailers. Product innovation would of course stifle the used market in good times. It may be a sign of the times that there is nothing revolutionary new in NAMM, at least like there was one time with MIDI, console automation, sequencing software, music editing software for the studio and the laptop, and digital turntables. The exception today could be the development of new music interfaces like the iPad or iPhone and, more distantly, the production and widespread usage of tools for musical collaborations online.
Education, and the preparation of students for a career in the music products industry, has always been a concern of the NAMM organization. Supplying schools and colleges with instruments is a driver of the trade. NAMM was the first trade organization to offer help and scholarships for young professionals entering the business, a practice that until recently was largely unknown in the recorded music trade, music publishing, and the live music sector (there is still little in live music and publishing, but Grammy in the Schools, and other initiatives by the Recording Academy, have begun to redress the balance in recorded music).
Today, NAMM and the College Music Society’s Generation Next program allow college students to experience the music products industry firsthand on the show floor. This year, the program brought in 2,000 music students and 73 received the President’s Innovation Award (your correspondent included).
Generation Next 2015 keynote was given by Music For Life awardee Moby, who made the case for the intensity and music passion subjacent in every corner of the products trade—an argument that needs to be made often with students that are typically seduced by the glamour of the recorded and live music trades and neglect to see the potential and affinities of a career within the music products industry. The CEO of NAMM, Joe Lammond, also hosted a panel of experts for students to provide mentoring and advice.
The business of music products trades in accessories. Accessories tend to do well regardless of economic circumstances. Musicians will need to buy strings, reeds, or mallets, let alone a new instrument or device, or instructional magazines. Moreover, schools need to buy music gear on a regular basis. All of this bodes well for the trade.
Moreover, a glimpse of the future of music is likely best observed in the products displayed at the NAMM floor. It helps too that meeting the people behind the products is quite easy and that individual conversation is welcome and encouraged throughout the exhibits in the Show. Doors seem to open easily for every attendee anywhere and everywhere, and there is much to do and learn in after hour gatherings. No red carpets here, but it is just as well.
By Jessica Prouty
1. “NAMM 2014 Global Report.” NAMM. National Association of Music Merchants, 2014. Web. 13 Feb. 2015. <https://www.namm.org/files/ihdp-viewer/global-report-2014/A7352D4907B25A95B2CE27A075D3956F/2014MusicUSA_final.pdf>
2. “Music Markets Are Still Local Affairs.” Music Trades Dec. 2014: 60-74. Print.