What this year’s NAMM Show—and indeed, last year’s AES and InfoComm trade shows, too—proved is that the pro audio industry is once again confident and moving forward.

The annual NAMM Show always provides a chance to take the temperature of the pro audio marketplace and get a glimpse of the year to come. The 2018 edition was exciting, to be honest—and that’s a welcome change from just a few years ago, when the Great Recession was officially “over,” according to statistics, but not even vaguely over according to reality.   

The recession slammed every part of the pro audio world, and trade shows were no exception. As events meant to generate excitement about gear and the industry, they were subdued, sometimes even morose affairs where seemingly everyone we interviewed sooner or later said a variation on “I think this is the show where it turns around,” though many clearly didn’t believe it. As recently as five years ago, manufacturers would quietly explain over a cup of coffee that the reason they had no new products at the show was because, while the next-generation XYZ was ready to go, they were holding off on releasing it until the economy improved. There was no point in releasing equipment that an understandably cautious marketplace didn’t have the nerve to invest in yet.   

Thankfully, times have changed—in fact, the industry is investing so heavily these days that, as one example, a new report suggests the global sound reinforcement market will exceed $9 billion by 2023. According to Dublin-based Research and Markets’ “Sound Reinforcement Market—Global Outlook and Forecast 2018-2023,” increased spending on consumer goods, restaurants and concerts is boosting the entertainment industry, and that in turn will drive demand for new sound equipment in the global market, fostering replacement of installed gear in government offices, courtrooms, campuses, nightclubs and elsewhere. 

Of that $9 billion, digital equipment is expected to account for more than 58 percent of the total market share and to generate revenue of about $5,856 million during the forecast period. Likewise, the report predicts that the microphone marketplace will build to a value of $3,043.2 million by 2023. Geographically, the region spending the most money over the next five years is expected to be APAC countries like India, China and Latin America, generating revenues of more than $2,979 million.   

Recording Studios Are Not Dying

If the report is truly indicative of the marketplace, that may be part of why this year’s NAMM Show was hopping. Pro audio exhibitors were thrilled to move into the new, separate ACC North building, dedicated solely to pro audio. (This is a complete 180° from the 1990s, when pro audio was cordoned off in the dismal arena and desperately wanted to be located on the show floor proper with the rest of the convention.)

Giving pro audio its own building created a space to facilitate the kind of expansion that the Research and Markets report is predicting. NAMM execs say the addition of ACC North helped raise the number of pro audio and event technology companies present, contributing to a 9 percent overall growth of exhibitors at the show. In total, there were 7,000 brands and nearly 2,000 exhibitors at NAMM, and they were visited by 115,085 attendees. In keeping with the international push predicted by the Research and Markets report, NAMM’s international attendance increased by 8 percent this year, with representation from more than 100 countries totaling 19,356 registrants, so it’s fair to guess that a good portion of them were from the APAC countries expected to power the SR marketplace in the coming years.

No predictive market report is ever 100 percent correct, and as 2008 taught us, the pro audio world can be buffeted by economic forces no one would ever see coming. What’s demonstrated by this year’s NAMM Show—and indeed, last year’s AES and InfoComm trade shows, too—is that the pro audio industry is once again confident and moving forward. Products are introduced with fanfare and there’s no glum coffee-cup asides—in part because there’s no time to get a cup of coffee. Will all those rosy predictions come true? There’s no way to know, but the pieces of the puzzle—the gear, the marketplace enthusiasm, and now, with the addition of ACC North, a deal-inspiring location—are in place.