Big Surprises and Small Victories at NAMM 2013

Big Surprises and Small Victories at NAMM 2013
  • “Winter” NAMM (the Anaheim version of NAMM, held every January) has waxed and waned over the years, in terms of importance to the pro audio community– especially the live event/PA side of the industry. That’s not to say the show has not always been a key event on the calendar. It has been. But for years many in the pro audio community felt that the show never quite lived up to its potential. If you go back five-ten years there was a general feeling among technology-side exhibitors especially that more could be done with education at the show, with a stronger showing for live event production technology, and even more attention could have been given to the increasing crossover between recording and production technology and installed AV.

The opening of the NAMM show last week marked the debut of the Anaheim Convention Center’s new outdoor venue, the Anaheim Grand Plaza. NAMM used the new stage as major venue for both artists and technology throughout the show.

That was then. This is now. This year’s show, that just wrapped Sunday at the Orange County Convention Center in Anaheim, blew me away. A veteran of many NAMMS but having taken a hiatus from attending the past couple years (personally, though NewBay has always had armies of people attend and cover the show) NAMM showed me last week that this is not the old, staid if noisy event more tuned to tubas and cymbals and two hundred-dollar guitars than to pushing the technology and education and marketing envelope. (No offense to tuba players and vendors– in fact, I spent a good hour at NAMM Sunday as it was winding down, playing banjos– an instrument for which an electronic pickup is superfluous. Long live acoustic instruments in all forms.)

Pick the part of a trade show you think is crucial to a successful event. Education track? NAMM has made huge strides and now has very unique educational sessions. Not so much on the traditional side with a bunch of attendees checking email in their palms while pretending to look at endless PowerPoints, but many panel-style sessions where real-world issues are directly addressed from all angles. Strong showing of key manufacturers on the floor? They were all there, done that. Demo rooms for exhibitors off the show floor? Most the key audio manufacturers had nice, quiet spaces to get up close with things. Networking? If you can’t find new folks to network with at NAMM, you need to find a new line of work– nothing brings people together like music. Opportunity to see/hear/touch gear in venues–not just demo rooms– off the show floor? Namm’s “Hot Zone” is something we should see at more trade shows: not just static gear in booths or gear in demo rooms controlled by the manufacturers, but classroom, hands-on instruction, not PowerPoint instruction. Strong international attendance, to broaden your business horizons? Exhibitors and buyers from ninety countries from around the world. 492 of the exhibiting companies were from beyond U.S. borders. Fun to attend? Can you name another show where a colleague texts you and says “stop by such-and-such booth, Los Lobos are stopping by there in five minutes.”

Based on member feedback last year, NAMM made an effort to increase buyer (blue) badges and decrease guest (yellow) badges to create the most business-friendly event possible this time. According to NAMM’s post show press release yesterday, buyers at NAMM 2013 increased four percent over 2012, while non-industry guests decreased sixteen percent. The important increase in buyers was attributed to more retail music stores, corporate buyers including houses of worship, live event venues and touring professionals, casinos, and studios sending buyers to shop the NAMM Show.

The new mix resulted, according to NAMM officials, in 93,908 total registrants last week. Impressive.

“We were approached by many potential new business partners, so it became an even broader type of business show,” said Tony Moscal, general manager of business development for Peavey. “We’re glad to see that NAMM’s provided with a full representation of an industry business show in addition to traditional retailers.”

What part of this year’s show was surprising? The best thing about this NAMM was not on the show floor or even in the building. I suppose it’s not a coincidence that the opening of the NAMM show last week marked the debut of the Anaheim Convention Center’s new outdoor venue, the Anaheim Grand Plaza. The Grand Plaza, right in front of the convention center (you know, where the taxis used to all turn around) features 100,000 square feet of outdoor meeting and event space, and during the NAMM Show an outdoor stage for live performances.

Good timing. NAMM attendees last week enjoyed a series of live performances all day, every day throughout the four-day show. Tower of Power, The Living Legends Jam (with band members from The Eagles, Black Sabbath, and Fleetwood Mac, among others), and CTA (California Transit Authority) were featured on the Grand Plaza stage.

Crown VRack amplification systems powered the VTX loudspeakers. Meeting Services, Inc. of San Diego provided the industrial strength PA for the big Plaza Stage. And it was impressive:

• 9 JBL VTX V25 line array loudspeakers per side

• JBL VTX S28 ground-stacked subwoofers

• Crown VRack amplification systems powering the VTX loudspeakers

• JBL VerTec VT4886 subcompact line array elements used as front fills

• Soundcraft Vi6 front of house console

• System control: JBL HiQnet Performance Manager software

Sure, there was all the horsepower you’d ever want for the marquee acts listed above. The system lived up to everything you’d want in that venue, and more. The sound was controlled well even though the stage was set in a kind of skyscraper canyon between the Hilton on one side and the Marriott on the other.

But the most wonderful musical experience for this reporter, coming off several days of wonderful musical experiences at NAMM, came Sunday afternoon, as the show was winding down. After rain and clouds all during the show, Sunday afternoon the sky started clearing and the temperature dropped and the wind kicked up. I walked by the Plaza stage, and they were setting up for a showcase performance from a singer I was not familiar with. There wasn’t much of a crowd in the huge plaza, as people were already looking to head home to L.A. or Dallas or Tokyo or Sao Paulo. I walked up to the front of the stage, and then over to the side. I could tell that the big JBL VTX S28 ground-stacked subwoofers were not going to be used for this set. But the VerTec VT4886 subcompact line arrays, perched on top of the idle subs, were. There were also four or five VT4886’s on the lip of the stage. All I could hear were those little boxes, as the artist Jamey Geston started to perform. Solo. A girl, and a guitar. The little line arrays were perfect.

As Geston came on stage, the audience learned that she has an endorsement deal with one of the NAMM Exhibitors, guitar manufacturer Daisy Rock Guitars. But Geston plays many instruments (guitar, bass, ukulele, piano, and mandolin.) In her set Sunday, she handled guitar with a bravado that went leagues beyond the three chord regime of most singer-songwriters. She played ukulele on several songs Sunday, with a confidence that brought the sweetness of the instrument new edge. In fact, she eschews the typical cloying finger-picking of the indie singer songwriter and plays both guitar and uke with a driving, aggressive right hand that makes the instrument work hard to establish a hard edge and cascading rhythm even as she uses her voice to ramp up and through and over the plateaus at the end of measures with a disquieting, dark counterpoint to the girl-song sing-song that no one that young has done since an early Joni Mitchell.

JBL VTX S28 ground-stacked subwoofers, with JBL VerTec VT4886 subcompact line array elements used as front fillsI walked back to the back of the plaza area, and I could hear more than the VT4886’s now. Now I could hear that the big 9-per-side JBL VTX V25’s were humming along. Jamey filled that space with an ease and elegance that made it all, well, hang together. That made you forget about the technology, and smile and tap your foot, and be glad to work in an industry that helps make these kind of fleeting, seemingly stolen moments possible.

I’m not a music reviewer (can you tell? Don’t worry, I won’t quit my day job.) Just Sunday, one awed new fan. And just awe-struck that this could come from, who?

Google Jamey Geston to find out the most surprising thing you will ever learn about an artist of this caliber.

To learn what I did not know when I heard her perform Sunday, at a professional music and technology conference that a few nights before hosted Elton John. Where so many artists– some of the world’s best musicians– appeared this past week. I heard Jens Kruger in the Deering booth along with clawgrass great Mark Johnson. David Grissom at the PRS booth (OK, I'm winning no hip points here, I’d better stop.)

To list all the great artists that played at NAMM last week, you’d need about 10 yards of screen. But none had a better platform than this girl had, on a bright crisp windy day in southern California as the booths and the stages and the instruments were starting to be rolled up and sent on to the next gig, the next show, the next booth, the next paycheck. A small victory for a new voice.

David Keene is a publishing executive and editorial leader with extensive business development and content marketing experience for top industry players on all sides of the media divide: publishers, brands, and service providers. Keene is the former content director of Digital Signage Magazine.