The annual Winter NAMM Show has always been the lynchpin convention for the musical instrument (MI) industry, but in recent years, it has grown to become an important event for the pro audio sector, too.
No longer relegated to exhibit spaces on the outskirts of the Anaheim Convention Center, today professional audio manufacturers are far more than merely present at the NAMM Show—they’re now key destinations for attendees, as witnessed by the recording software demos that often attract larger aisle-clogging crowds than wailing guitar solos a few booths away.
“The pro audio presence has grown dramatically in recent years,” confirms Karl Winkler, director of business development at Lectrosonics, which will debut its HH handheld transmitter at NAMM. “Part of the reason, I think, is that pro audio in general has become more accessible, meaning that the average cost of the products has come way down.” The result, says Winkler, is that pro audio has become more relevant to the typical NAMM attendee: “Where else can musicians and technical people go to see everything involved with making music, from the instruments to the speakers the sound is ultimately played on?”
Of course, major changes like that don’t happen overnight. “I believe the shift started with accessible technology that allowed once MIoriented capabilities to be integrated into pro audio products,” says John Maier, CEO of Blue Microphones, which will debut its Spark Digital iPad mic and Mikey Digital iPhone mic/interface at NAMM. “With the advent of products like ADAT, Roland VS digital recorders and many more, all of a sudden, pro audio was accessible and started to be sold through more MI or full-line music stores. In more recent years, in a quest to match up the products with the right channel and customer, both the manufacturers and NAMM itself have worked a little harder to try and adjust NAMM’s approach to be better suited for pro audio.”
Alan Veniscofsky, director of operations at Telefunken Elektroakustik, sees the rise of lower-priced pro gear as part of a broad picture: “Digital music downloads and the invention of DAWs, computer-based recording and composition has allowed the bedroom guitarist to become the bedroom record producer. The musician now has access to professional recording tools via the latest technologies, and these tools are now as equally important to the musicians as the instruments in the creative process. The result [is] more interest and demand from the MI world for professional recording products.” Telefunken will bow its M81 Universal Dynamic microphone at NAMM.
While professional audio has made considerable inroads at NAMM, for many companies with a foot in both the consumer and professional camps, it’s still an MI show first and foremost. Marc Kellom, director of marketing for Crown Audio, explained, “We don’t see it as a full pro audio show. However, we do see a large number of our customers from the West Coast making the trip [so] even if we don’t publicly show a non-MI product, we might have it in a meeting room for those key customers who need to see it.”
Indeed, in recent years, opportunities to check out the latest pro audio gear at NAMM—whether behind a curtain or as a full-on product launch—have exploded.
“It’s a good launch platform…for pro audio products, even if the majority of attendees might be more retail- focused,” says Stefanie Reichert, vice president of strategic marketing at Sennheiser. “The semi-pro market is growing and merging with MI retail. [For instance], manufacturers offer studio products that cater to semi-professionals, and smaller to mid-sized live sound applications, like churches, purchase through MI retailers in some cases…thus the lines are more and more blurry. This starts to draw attendees that are working in [the pro audio] field. We will execute our Live Production Sound Academy Seminar this year for the second time and are expecting large participation; this is proof that the pro audio-type audience is growing.” At NAMM, Sennheiser will debut XS, an entrylevel wireless system.
MI retail’s increased focus may have a bit of strategy behind it as well, as Andy Teipen, regional manager for Auralex Acoustics, notes: “From what I have seen, the majority of MI dealers are moving into the Pro Audio space to help diversify and sustain themselves in a time when retail is a really tough place to be. The independent brick and mortar stores are struggling to compete with online retailers and the big box stores. Moving to the Pro Audio side seems to be an attempt for the MI retailer to operate in an area where their personal touch and local customer relationships are welcomed and needed; the big box stores and online retailers have yet to figure out how to do that.” At the show, Auralex will bow an addition to its Max-Wall line, two new Studiofoam cuts and more.
For many manufacturers, however, the convention presents a prime opportunity for outreach to all different factions of the industry. Mick Olesh, executive VP of sales and marketing at Waves, explains, “Waves has always considered NAMM to be the quintessential setting for meeting and discussing product and business with our dealers, colleagues, pro audio editors, advertisers and Waves users.” The company, which will announce new plug-ins, an iOS app, a new hardware unit and a version update at the show, clearly sees it as a product launch pad. “NAMM is a major factor in our calendar,” says Olesh, “especially with regards to new product releases and announcements. It is also extremely beneficial for planning ahead with our dealers and the media.”
Pro audio has always been an international industry, with wellknown brands emanating from every corner of the globe, and that tradition continues today, with companies like Waves (based in Israel) or U.K.-based Sonnox, whose sales and marketing manager Nathan Eames feels “More non-U.S. dealers come to NAMM than they do AES, whether it’s the weather—mid- January in California—or just the fact they can meet all vendors in one location, from MI to Pro Audio. Dealers can cover more ground at NAMM than they can AES, which is more an end-user show.”
The rising number of international distributors is not lost on U.S.-based exhibitors either, as Aviom’s director of marketing, Chandler Collison, confirms: “It’s a fun and energetic environment to give customers a hands-on experience with our products, and to let them perform with them and see how they work, but it is also an industry show that draws distributors from around the world and is an opportunity for us to meet with our reps and other industry professionals.” Aviom will be introducing Pro16 Personal Mixing System Packages as well as its new SK6 Stage Kit, a stage box for the AllFrame Multi-Modular I/O System.
Mark Loughman, CEO of British Audio Engineering, finds the show to be a key way to engage end-users. “It’s a great way to show off a new product and show the crowd how we actually build gear,” he notes, adding that providing a chance for users “to be able to physically see an item and its build quality is still invaluable to us.” Among BAE’s new offerings will be a Matt Sorum signature preamp, a Rafael Moreira signature stereo DMP and a guitar pedal.
According to David Wiener, CEO/chairman of Aphex, the benefit of networking at NAMM can’t be overestimated. “We get to meet with a lot of people—producers, engineers, artists, and others. We use NAMM to not only meet with our distributors and build our reseller networks, but to also…garner tremendously valuable feedback from Aphex users—the people who matter the most to us.” No doubt, the company will be listening to reactions as it debuts a 500 Series version of its Aphex Exciter, as well as a Headpod4 headphone amplifier.
Given the internet’s ever-growing impact on customer service, are trade shows like NAMM ultimately doomed? Don’t count on it.
“I think we as manufacturers need to understand that, in general, today’s consumers are much more educated about their purchase decisions because the Internet affords them the opportunity to gather information and shop for the best price before making their final purchase— whether they’re buying a car, groceries or a wireless microphone system,” says Mark Humrichouser, Shure’s managing director of The Americas Business Unit. “That said, there is absolutely no substitute for the opportunity to have face-to-face interactions at a trade show. I like to say that when it comes to high tech versus high touch, high touch is always the preferred choice.” At NAMM, Shure will be introducing its ULX-D digital wireless system, as well as its first two open back headphones, the SRH1440 and the SRH1840.
While some companies see industry networking as their key reason for exhibiting, however, they aren’t entirely taken with the idea of it being a goal. Overseeing the debut of Miniataur, an analog bass synthesizer, at this year’s show, Moog Music Inc. CEO Michael J. Adams, notes, “Trade shows are still relevant because it is a cost-effective way to continue to build industry relationships, but all trade shows need to realize this is the only real value, and so the model needs to evolve.”
The NAMM Show