“It’s the secret music show they won’t let you into.”

-Overheard outside the NAMM Show

Some say trade shows are obsolete. But as music coach Bobby Owsinski says in Forbes, there’s still a big demand for meeting business associates and friends face to face at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show, which he calls “musical instrument candy land.” Though it’s supposed to be tough to get a ticket, many consumers and musicians who have contacts do attend the show. Some exhibitors complain that the unwashed hordes make it difficult to give their serious prospects attention. The “blue badges” [retailers] are what they want to see, not yellow badges [visitors]. But this year’s event will fill seven convention halls with goods from all corners of the music and entertainment industry for four days from January 24 to 28. There will be plenty of room for all the 100,000 attendees, regardless of badge.

It’s true that trade shows do not have all the power they once did. There was a time when NAMM was essential for introducing new products. In fact, you could set your annual clock by a schedule that went something like this:

January: Announce your products at the show. Take orders from retail stores.
April: Release catalogs and first public ads.
May: Get product into retail stores and on stages with artists.
October: Start the holiday marketing push when 40% or more of music products are purchased.

That schedule is so 1992. The whole cycle of designing, prototyping, producing, distributing, and selling products has been revolutionized over the past two decades. Retailers no longer go to the NAMM show ready to buy because they know they can still get a supply of products later in the year no matter when they place orders because manufacturers can ship overnight. On the marketing side some firms want to emulate companies such as Apple which typically introduce their products to the world and the retail channel with a global one-day marketing event. That means manufacturers need to have product in stores and all their marketing ready to roll simultaneously, perhaps in multiple countries Richard Taninbaum of Rhythm Tech (owned by Kaman Music) says “the company policy is that they won’t show a product at the NAMM show unless it is shippable that day.” As a result, some major products are introduced later in the year.

That changes the trade show but does not diminish its necessity. Kevin Packard, brand manager at Pearl’s combo division, says, “NAMM is my favorite time of year.” He makes the point that a large part of the industry looks for answers about what is happening and they find them at a huge trade show like NAMM. “In fact,” he adds, “because traditional retail stores have taken a bit of a back seat to online retail there is less opportunity for players and owners to get hands-on with the gear, which can make NAMM more important,” he says. He adds that tremendous buzz is generated at NAMM through blogs, video, print and digital news sources. Products that find favor among early testers there are going to be talked about and be ordered by stores and online sellers all year long.

Buzzy New Products

With that in mind, I’m going to NAMM to look for some very specific kinds of buzzy new products this year.

The first of these are gadgets that make it easier for musicians to compose, practice, or perform by tapping into the power of all the connected phones and computers around us. I’m thinking of new recording devices such as Roland’s R-07, the latest in their line of great handheld recorders. Only this one connects to phones, watches, wireless speakers and other devices to make on-the-go composition that much easier. I doubt if many of you will be writing songs while skateboarding, as in the promo video below, but, hey, that’s the artistic license marketers take.


Another product like that is Pearl’s MalletStation. Though it debuted in November, it’s still quite new. With its Apple-like appearance, small footprint, USB power, and top-quality sounds, it’s another device that spans uses from practice to recording to stage.

There will be plenty more to see in acoustic drums, too. In particular, high-end features keep finding their way into lower priced tubs that give players new options. I look for some products to surprise us in that regard. And I expect lots of new software tools and accessories that innovate where you may not expect it. Promark is introducing its new line of mallets based on a new manufacturing technology, for example. And then there are timeless objects of desire, with more than twenty cymbal companies at the show as well.

I’m hearing about exciting new products daily. Next week I’ll hit you with my personal list of products I’ll be checking out at the show.

Great Letter Of The Week

Got comments or ideas? Complaints, even?Leave a comment below. into a drawing for a top accessory.

Michael Brown, who plays in the bands Southbound and Bootleg wrote to me regarding the column “I’m Not Buying From A Corporate Drum Company.”

Hi Phil,

I’ve gigged with Ludwig, PDP, Taye, Pearl, Sonor, and Tama… But, I always wanted to own a custom kit. I just couldn’t justify the cost, since what I was playing was doing the job… Last year, I spent months researching custom drum companies, and their drum building philosophies. Out of all of the custom drum builders, I found one, who’s philosophy completely matched mine. But…I couldn’t afford to buy them.

Eight months passed, and I found the exact set I wanted, clear across the United States. I’m talking the configuration, size, and finish… so I bought it.

When they arrived, I changed nothing. I simply tuned them, and off to the gig. Everyone commented on the difference in sound. EVERYONE! And I also was blown away by the huge difference these particular drums made.

I wish I had done this years ago. Having a quality, handmade set does indeed make a huge difference in the quality of sound you supply for your band. It was money, extremely well spent.

Michael Brown

Great story, Michael. Thanks for sharing. The point of my column was that the bigger companies build great drums, too and I was reacting to a reader who was disrespectful of the incredible contributions of the great names in drums such as Ludwig, DW, Gretsch, Yamaha, Pearl, Tama, and so on. No one can deny the pleasure of playing on a one-of-a-kind kit that speaks to you personally.

I’ll be sending Michael a set of Cympad cellular foam washers, compliments of Cympad and Full Circle Management.

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