A Postcard From Frankfurt

Mid-March in Frankfurt seemed much like the March I’d left at home.
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Frank Wellsfwells@nbmedia.com Mid-March in Frankfurt seemed much like the March I’d left at home. The first two days, the temps topped 70° F and the locals sought out any patch of sunshine they could find and basked in the warmth. The next two days were 10° cooler, which actually helped in the halls, where air conditioning was obviously not a priority.

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For many of our readers, trade shows are something you read about in magazines and online, and don’t attend, though you probably have a decent mental image of the aisleways, lined with row after row of manufacturers displaying their wares.

Each spring, Frankfurt has two simultaneous events, sharing a common spread of exhibit halls—kind of a Winter NAMM on steroids, for those of you who have experienced Anaheim in January. Where NAMM is loosely separated by musical instrument category under a single expansive roof, Frankfurt’s Musikmesse divides MI exhibitors along the same lines, but in separate buildings within the messe, or festival, grounds. The second event is ProLight+Sound, which is comprised of two halls—one for lighting and the other for pro audio—supplemented by outside stages where large sound systems are demoed.

Hall 5.1 at Musikmesse is devoted to recording gear, with some spillage downstairs to 5.0 and into Hall 4 (where they share space with guitars— companies like Gibson and TC Electronic obviously having a foot in both worlds). Most of the U.S. manufacturers exhibit with their distributors, and many tell me that exhibition participation is actually secondary for them to their meetings with their worldwide distributors who converge on Frankfurt each year.

Over in Hall 8, the live sound community gathers, again with many sharing space on a distributors’ booth but with individual spaces that could occupy a sizeable footprint on their own. PL+S is the largest gathering of live sound brands that I’ve experienced in two decades of covering such events.

The combined attendance at the two Frankfurt shows was cited by the organizers as topping 108,000 this year from 146 countries, up from around 107,650 in 2014. The exhibitor count was 2,257, up from 2,216 in 2014, though that success was somewhat marred by notable no-shows like Fender.

There’s been contraction in the Musikmesse side of the equation for some time—Hall 6 remained entirely unused this year, for example. One change designed to help address this, and to cater to those who primarily attend for business dialog, was the addition of a new B2B meeting area—flanked by the impressive Neal Preston “In the Eye of the Rock’n’Roll Hurricane” photo exhibit of artists ranging from Freddy Mercury to Fleetwood Mac, a welcome distraction. Another change was the addition of a second public day; the final two days of Musikmesse allowed anyone to buy access, making Hall 5 pretty unbearable.

For next year, planned changes in the two shows are even more dramatic. Early March dates are slated with PL+S starting two days before Musikmesse and overlapping by two days, with all four days of Musikmesse being public days. A major shift in hall allocations is also planned, with PL+S moving up to the front halls, Musikmesse moving further back. As with any change, a lot of consternation was expressed about the plans—six show days, four public days, more expensive midweek travel for those who don’t stay the entire time, new locations. Some of the plans will no doubt be modified based on exhibitor feedback. I’m sure I’ll be there regardless, based on the concentration of new gear and unparalleled access to manufacturers.