A crazy, loving, snarky look at Anaheim’s other theme park
by Craig Anderton
Anaheim, California, USA is the world-famous home of Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, and Fantasyland. In an eerie coincidence, I’ve been told there’s also a theme park based around these same four themes—but of course, we’re talking about the Winter NAMM show.
I’ve been going to NAMM since dealers and manufacturers set up on card tables in the Disneyland hotel. It was a time of turmoil in the world; the Roman monarchy had just been overthrown, heralding the beginning of the Republican period, and Cleisthenes took power in Greece, reorganizing Athens into a more democratic state. But that didn’t keep major retailers of that time, like Lyre Center and Greekwater, from coming to Anaheim and checking out the latest products. This was also the period when NAMM started adding workshops, including the one by Pythagoras on his seminal research into stringed instruments and tunings—which laid the groundwork for the eventual development of the Les Paul and Telecaster.
Fast forward to the present. Within recent times, the Summer NAMM show in Chicago was the dominant music trade show, with Winter NAMM an also-ran for the West Coast. Now the situation is reversed, with Winter NAMM dominating, and Summer NAMM a more regional show. Furthermore, with around 100,000 visitors, NAMM is close to achieving parity with the Musikmesse/Prolight + Sound show held in Frankfurt (although last year, the purely music-oriented part had only 62,000 visitors).
In my highly debatable and probably inaccurate opinion, three main factors have contributed to Winter NAMM’s inevitable ascendancy. First, Midwest and East Coast dealers realized they could take a tax-deductible trip to bask in the SoCal sun and escape blizzards, polar vortices, and sub-zero temperatures. No-brainer! Second, at one point the Euro was strong and the dollar was weak, encouraging European visitors to scoop up the bargains and do Winter NAMM instead of Frankfurt. They then realized they too could escape the dreary European winters, which started NAMM on its continuing evolution to being a truly international show. Third, when Japan and China became manufacturing juggernauts, it was a lot easier to go to California. When people refer to Hall E these days as “Chinatown” it’s a technical description, not a snide remark.
In theory, NAMM is in trade-only, and not open to the public. Also in theory, nuclear power would be too cheap to meter, Mattel’s “Earring Magic Ken” was going to fly off the shelves, and we’d all be watching Microsoft’s WebTV (or enjoying Jar Jar Binks while “The Phantom Menace” played on our Betamax), happily drinking New Coke and eating Colgate Kitchen Entrees. Although having musicians at a musical instrument show isn’t a flawed idea, the sheer numbers mean it’s getting harder to navigate the halls, conduct business, and not have hearing loss. What? No, I didn’t say “dental floss”…I said HEARING LOSS.
When it’s lunchtime, thrill to the allure of food-like substances! Brave the crowds as you try to make it from an appointment in Hall A to one in Hall E (bring your personal jet pack) in under 45 minutes! See how long you can “hold it” while waiting for the bathroom lines to dissipate! Attend never-ending press conferences at your own risk, where at any moment you could fall asleep and crash to the ground! Yes, NAMM is a never-ending thrill ride that puts Disneyland’s “Tower of Terror” to shame.
NAMM is where manufacturers explore the uncharted territories of new products, whether it’s the latest entries in the Race to the Bottom or products so sophisticated no one can figure them out. Still, one of the absolute best qualities of NAMM is the amount of innovation on display. Let’s face it, no one works in the music industry because they expect to get rich (they’re not defense contractors). They’re part of the industry because they love it, love music, and love coming up with cool new ideas and products. There’s no better place to explore the frontiers of human ingenuity than NAMM, and yes, I am capable of saying things that are not snarky.
Many people mistakenly, although understandably, assume NAMM stands for “National Association of Music Merchants.” However, NAMM got its name when dealers would ask if a product is currently shipping, and the answer was invariably “not available…maybe May.” That turned into an acronym, and the rest is history.
Yes, it’s true that many products shown at NAMM will never end up on a retailer’s shelves—or be delayed, turn out to be not quite as good an idea as people thought, or wouldn’t be carried by Guitar Center because it took up too much shelf space. But the flip side is that many products that shouldn’t have shown up on retailer’s shelves not only did, but became hits because of the feedback a company received at NAMM. NAMM is a look at not just the present state of industry, but a peek into tomorrow.
I ADMIT IT…I LOVE NAMM
I’ve been going to trade shows forever. People genuinely can’t believe I look forward to them, and that I haven’t gotten burned out after all these years. In fact, some medical professionals find this very interesting, because they think I may be exhibiting some as-yet-undiagnosed form of mental illness (particularly because they wonder why some guitar player can get really excited about new DJ gear).
But I love NAMM. The music industry has an extraordinarily high percentage of incredibly cool people, and they’re all in the same place at the same time. Seeing the creativity of the human mind at work never gets old, and it’s a reminder—not that I need it—we are all part of the industry of human happiness.
So carry on, NAMM. And if anyone reading this sees me prowling the halls, say hi…we’re all in this together. And that makes it even better.
Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.