Letter from America
Published in PM February 2009
Anyone expecting this year's Winter NAMM Show — one of the year's two most significant music industry trade events, alongside Frankfurt's MusikMesse — to be something of an economic barometer for the coming year may be a little confused by some of the reporting coming out of an unusually hot and sunny Anaheim. Whilst some commentators seem to disagree — one industry analyst wanted the NAMM acronym rebranded as 'Not Available, Maybe Messe' — I found the show to be every bit as vibrant as in recent past years, with both exhibitor and visitor numbers at close enough to normal levels. To go with a general mood of 'the-recovery-starts-here' positivity, I thought there were also a lot of excellent new products on show. NAMM 2009 may not have been one of those years where everyone was talking about the one sensational 'product of the show', but there was certainly a series of incremental developments and useful innovations, arguably of more use to working musicians.
Diversification (to the point where every company will surely soon have something in every product category) remains a theme; notable departures from the expected included a bass guitar amplifier from effects and processing experts TC Electronic and an acoustic guitar from electric guitar icon Paul Reed Smith, both of which I would number amongst my personal highlights, judging from the demos.
No NAMM show would be complete without its share of oddball stuff, however, and this one was no exception. I have to say, I remain to be convinced that stretch-fit, slip-on covers to protect solid-body guitars during use are a 'must-have' item for any musician. Perhaps they could be used to protect the artfully pre-distressed finish on Fender's new Road Worn range — a made-in-Mexico 'Relic' range and actually rather good — or would that just prevent the guitars from accumulating further value as they age, by means of some genuine scratches and dings?
Regular readers will be aware of my views on the sound quality at many of the performance venues around the NAMM show and I have to report that things seemed no better to me this year. My theory that the blame lies squarely with the operators and/or performers, rather than the gear, received something of a boost when I had occasion to visit the same venue on two different days during this year's trip. The first night, midweek, was simply desperate — low intelligibility, intermittent feedback and audible distortion at times. On the second night, a weekend, we were treated to a tight, clean sound with audible, intelligible vocals, a perceived loudness that was higher, yet more comfortable to listen to, and not a hint of feedback or distortion. The rig was the same, the mics were the same and the venue was equally full on both nights. What's left, other than operator/performer competence? (OK, an intermittent fault isn't inherently ruled out by this random sampling, but I went there last year too, and if they have a technical problem, no one has addressed it inside 12 months.)
Struggling to be heard in the hotel lobby venues were some really promising young musicians and performers this year. It is truly one of the most heartening things to see real talent and potential coming through, in spite of the uncertainties of the industry into which they are emerging.
The real verdict on Winter NAMM 2009, however, will be delivered by musicians over the coming year. It is one thing for manufacturers to launch innovative new products and for dealers to stock and promote them, but quite another for the potential end-user to have the ambition and economic confidence to buy. Perhaps if UK press, TV and radio were to stop mindlessly bombarding our potential punters with speculation about economic meltdown and stick to reporting fact, we might stand a better chance of generating some of the USA's more positive outlook over here. For us too, the recovery starts here, if we want it to.
Dave Lockwood — Editor 0
Published in PM February 2009
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