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    NAMM - Is it Relevant Anymore?

    By Dendy Jarrett |

    NAMM: Is it Relevant Anymore?

    Only time will tell …


    by Dendy Jarrett




    NAMM is the National Association of Musical Merchants. They were formed in 1901 as 52 members of the National Piano Manufacturers Association of America when they then formed the National Association of Piano Dealers of America. Their first trade show was held in the YMCA hall in Baltimore, Maryland. The idea had merit – manufacturers had people who knew the ins and outs of the piano; how to care for it, how to tune it, how to adjust the soundboard, etc. These people would later be known as product specialists. These specialists would be available for dealers to see the newest products and write business but, while there, learn more about taking care of the instruments they sold to their customers. 


    Fun Fact: Did you know that Thomas Edison was a NAMM member and even exhibited one year?


    The term NAMM didn’t become real until 1919 when the association name was changed from the Piano Manufacturers (NPMDA) to the National Assoc. of Musical Merchants (NAMM). NAMM continued to thrive and grow. It missed a couple of Trade Shows during the Great Depression. In the late 1930s NAMM became involved in the advocacy for music in education, and in 1940 became involved in price disputes that resulted from some low instrument pricing in the Montgomery Ward catalog. 


    Over the years some milestones even became popular and then faded into time – like in the 1920s, the first women being allowed to be guests at banquets. In the 50s a campaign to heighten dealer interest, which resulted in the “Miss Music Contest.” Then there was the 1938 contest in which NAMM started a “window display contest” to see who could provide some of the best in merchandising their wares. In 1945 WWII closed the trade show for the year, as there was a travel ban due to the war.


    During the years, the show moved around. It was in New York, Atlantic City, Miami, and even one year in Missouri. One of the places that saw a long run was McCormick center in Chicago where Summer NAMM found favor. 


    In 1976 NAMM celebrated its 75th Anniversary with a huge party in Chicago, which sold out a record 103,360 square feet of displays.


    Over the years, NAMM finally settled into a winter show in Anaheim at the Anaheim Convention Center and a summer NAMM show in Nashville at the Music City Center. In 2001 it celebrated 100 years.


    In 2016 NAMM reported that it had the highest attendance, as the numbers topped 100,000 for the first time. 2017 saw the numbers fall just short of 100,000, so there wasn’t much fanfare about attendance.


    As you can see, NAMM and the NAMM show have adapted to changing times over the years. They’ve morphed into something huge. But— is it relevant anymore? 


    NAMM’s trade show was originally developed to provide both product knowledge to dealers but, more (and most) important, to write business. Little emphasis was placed on attendance, rather “membership” numbers and the amount of business written with each show. During the mid 1980s, I attended my first NAMM at McCormick in Chicago. I can remember that while it was busy and crowded, it was relatively quiet. People were in booths at tall tables standing around writing business. Dealers would come in and place their opening orders for the year or (in the case of the summer show) their Christmas season orders. Dealers would take advantage of NAMM specials many times offered because a dealer made the effort to travel to the show. And even in the drum hall, you might hear an occasional crash cymbal or whack on a tom-tom, but you’d never hear someone break into a jam on a kit. It was simply too disruptive to the business side of what was at the core of the show’s intentions.


    Something changed over the last 25 years. The show has become more of a “mine’s bigger than yours” fest, and it’s become more about the attendance overall. In the 90s they started “Public Day,” but, honestly, every day has become public day at NAMM. The halls are packed beyond belief. The noise levels are almost unbearable. Lines are hundreds of yards long as people wait to see an artist signing autographs as a booth. It’s become quite the circus now. And it’s cool and fun, but it is no longer about writing business for music dealers. And that’s A-OK if you acknowledge and accept that fact. 


    The show represents a substantial investment for larger companies – to the tune of over 7 figures by the time they pay for travel, boarding, food, booth space, and shipping gear. And more and more manufacturers are starting to weigh that investment against the return on their investment. 


    When the first NAMM shows started, communication was quite primitive by today’s standards. The advent of the smartphone and high-speed internet has changed everything. Manufacturers no longer need to wait 6 months between product development announcements. They no longer need to wait for the masses to come to them because they can get their message to the masses with the click of a send button. And with virtual reality finally starting to gain traction, the sky’s the limit on what may come in the future.


    Granted, you’ll never replace picking up a guitar and trying it out, but isn’t the consumer able to do that at a retail music store? Or are buyers now keen on some new direct-to-consumer model that give you 24 hours to try a product (and if you don’t like it, return it if you cover the shipping and a small restock fee)? The future holds some interesting unknowns.


    Yes, in over 100 years of progress, NAMM will evolve, as well. You’ll see larger, better-funded manufacturers opt out of having a large display, and they’ll be spending their money on better online experiences where consumers can make up their minds regarding buying choices. 


    As someone who goes to the NAMM Show, I’d like to see NAMM have two days that are restricted to quiet displaying and music gear only with dealer-to-manufacturer-only meetings. No artists or massive crowds on those first two days. Then let the last two days be open to the general public when all the business aspects have been satisfied and we can get our party on.


    Is NAMM still relevant anymore? Well, the jury is still out on that. But we believe that anything that promotes music and music instruments and the love of making better music is a worthy cause. As for the NAMM show itself...only time will only tell.  -HC -







    Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Executive Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.



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    With the Internet... if I were a company I would create my own on-line NAMM show... displaying, demoing, etc., both on Skype and recorded for video playback... all new products I'm about to release.  Now, that does not allow a person to try it out, but how many people actually attend NAMM vs. those who play instruments and buy gear?  The cost of flight, hotel, meals and tickets (besides taking time off work) precludes many from attending, particularly non-USA citizens travelling from another country.  To partake in a day or so of Skype and/or later view the videos of those in-house events (I think) would create greater draw for any one particular company.

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