The last weekend in January brought over 115,00 people to Anaheim, California for the annual National Association of Music Merchants convention, better known as NAMM. The annual event brings together vendors, musicians, and industry professionals from around the globe to show off their latest innovations, talk shop, and test out the newest line of instruments from a multitude of merchants. Nearly 7,000 brands and 2,000 exhibiting companies were on display for attendees to check out.

NAMM not only featured the latest music industry products but also held over 500 educational classes throughout the four days of the conference. Classes ranged from such topics featuring safety and security in the live music industry, audio science, and rigging and lighting safety to wireless technology panels and marketing and online presence. The wide variety of educational topics allowed for everyone to learn something that was specific to their career.

NAMM was spread out between the Anaheim Convention Center & Arena and spilled into the neighboring Mariott and Hilton hotels. It not only made for a lot of sore feet but provided endless displays to check out. The Grand Plaza, situated between the two hotels, featured a main stage for events throughout the day, as well as shows when the convention closed in the early evening. Music was also featured at stages within the hotels throughout the day and well into the late night.

Larry Morton, president of Hal Leonard, described the trade show best for those who are not familiar with the event. “NAMM’s the global gathering place. It’s where you go to find out everything about our industry on a global basis. The diversity of the companies that are here are from technology to traditional musical instruments, to publishing to artists, to management, to labels you’ve got it. I mean, it’s the one place you can go and touch all facets of the music business.” 

International attendance at this year’s show reflected global representation of over nineteen thousand people from over 100 countries. With such a vast mix of domestic and international retail distributors, buyers, media, and artists, it made for the perfect place to converge new ideas and forge new relationships around the globe. Andy Zildjian, of Sabian, stated it perfectly by saying “You have four days to meet the world. Anybody who has a stake in the industry is here: whether it’s distributors, manufacturers, retailers, players, everyone.”

Each morning of the conference began with “The Breakfast of Champions” which featured speakers discussing various parts of the industry—everything from “Future-Proofing the Music Industry” to “The Digital Consumer: How Buyers Have Changed and What To Do About It.”

On the opening day of the event, The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir was honored with the NAMM “Music for Life” Award. It honored his work spanning five decades for not only influencing musical styles for musicians worldwide but it recognized his work in sound design and the music business in general. Presented by NAMM President and CEO, Joe Lamond, Weir’s achievements were acknowledged with the following:

The Grateful Dead inspired a movement by taking incredible risks musically, culturally and in terms of how they approached the music business. They did so out of a passion for music making and, as a result, continue to inspire musicians to this day. We’re honored to present Bob Weir with the Music for Life Award for his unabashed passion for music making, support for music education and so many more achievements in his long career.

Award events scattered throughout the conference included the debut of The Parnelli Awards, which honored event tech professionals across 22 categories. The She Rocks Awards recognized outstanding women in the industry who’ve made great strides. This year’s event honored such artists as Pat Benatar, Melissa Etheridge, and Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of the B-52’s, to name a few.

The NAMM TEC Awards recognized 31 areas within the areas of Technical or Creative Achievement, and individuals, companies and technical innovations used in film, television, video games and sound recording. Jackson Browne was also honored at this event with the Les Paul Innovation Award which is presented to those who have shown the highest standard of excellence in the “creative application of recording technology in the spirit of famed audio pioneer, inventor and musician, Les Paul.”

At his acceptance Browne stated:

It means so much to be honored by you because I’ve relied on the kindness of engineers and their knowledge in the studio and equipment my whole life. These people know everything I don’t know but they put their technical expertise at the service of the music – at the service of the song. I am indebted to them and I’m indebted to you all who make the gear.

After four days of endless classes, panels, gear to drool over, sights, sounds and visuals that filled each sense to the gild, sore feet were the departing gift for many of the attendees. After pockets were crammed full of business cards, connections made, meetings set, and conversations discussed over a tall cold one, everyone left with a renewed sense of purpose and energy in the industry. For more information about the NAMM show, and their non-profit association, please visit their website.

Words and Photography by Sarah Bourque