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Arts Conferences Russo's Ramblings

NAMM 2020

I had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) annual convention in Anaheim, California in January 2020. A shout out to Williamsville alumni whose donations helped to make the trip possible.

The NAMM Show brings together the entire music industry from around the globe. It is a massive event. The NAMM Foundation holds music education focused sessions, as well as the Grand Rally for Music Education. The Conn-Selmer Music Administrators Collaborative was also meeting in Anaheim. So, with the stars aligning for me to attend, off I went.

My experience caused me to think about the state of the music industry and how much more music there is for students to access than the typical traditional school band/chorus/orchestra experience. Now that I have a little more time to unpack my thoughts amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and possibly because of the pandemic, there may indeed be a major shift in the near future. I’m not pushing for change, but rather wondering what is possible.

I am going to share my thoughts through a series of clips which represents my time exploring the show over the course of 2 days. The entire event is 5 days, and WAY too much to digest.

To start, here is the show map, to give an idea of how expansive it is:

NAMM show map
The NAMM Show Locator Map

An American football field is 57,400 square feet. Looking at the exhibit hall square footage available on the Anaheim Convention Center site, I guesstimate that there are 22 football fields worth of space, and they were all full of vendors and products. And those 22 fields do not include the additional several football fields of space in the adjacent hotels either.

So here we go with a short tour of some of the things I saw and heard. The first stop is the All-Industry Drum Circle on Friday evening, in the outdoor Palm Court:

On Friday night (and every night), there are multiple concerts on the Yamaha Grand Plaza Stage. Tower of Power was the feature for Saturday night as an example. While I was at the stage Friday, this was what was going on:

Saturday morning was the Grand Rally for Music Education in the Hilton Hotel (next to the convention center). This event, sponsored by the NAMM Foundation, celebrates and promotes music in the schools. First up was the presentation of winners of the first ever A Capella at NAMM contest and a performance by the grand prize winners, UCLA’s ScatterTones:

And the feature performer at the Grand Rally for Music Educaiton? Bobby McFerrin with Gimme5!

While walking around the show floor, there are performers literally everywhere. In this clip, the performers are in a booth for Solcor Audio. I love the combination of the melodica and electric cello, as well as the tune:

There is no shortage of classical performances and instruments as evidenced by this clip from the show floor in the string instrument area:

There is at least a football field worth of entertainment technology to see and learn about:

The DJ business is well represented as well:

One never knows when one will come across a saxophone quartet…

or a clarinet quartet…

…or a multi-talented soloist!

Just when one thinks they’ve seen it all, one stops by the Careers in Music Summit to hear a talk and performance by trumpeter Jonathan Dely and the guest he invited to the stage, former New York Yankee and incredible guitarist Bernie Williams:

Guitars play (pun intended) a large role at NAMM and the manufacturers make sure the music is always rockin’ – here is the Gibson hall on Saturday early evening:

There is no shortage of pianos to be found, including the Roomful of Pianos performances on Friday and Saturday evening:

There are continual sessions and workshops on recording and sound engineering – this stage featured “Mix with the Masters” – hourly appearances by pros demonstrating how they do their craft:

So that is my brief tour of my experience taking in NAMM. I’m tired just thinking back on it, but it was awesome! One small anecdote of the ‘who’ of NAMM – while watching the above demonstration, one of the speakers did a shout-out to none other than Alan Parsons who was walking by on the way to his booth. Incidentally, his sound recording curriculum, The Art and Science of Sound Recording, looks pretty cool.

So where does this leave my thinking? Here are some reflections and questions:

  • In my un-scientific estimation, the traditional school band/chorus/orchestra comprised approximately 5% of vendors and products.
  • The attendees are ravenous for ALL types of music and music technology. The diversity was significant. People watching was an activity all by itself.
  • If NAMM represents what is going on in the music industry and therefore music, what should traditional school music programs be doing to broaden the scope of offerings?