Article by Johnny Zapp

NAMM?  Isn’t that a nick-name for a senseless war that our country was involved in years ago?  Not in this context.  To jjveterans of the music industry, NAMM stands for National Association of Music Merchants.  A non-profit organization established in 1901, NAMM is responsible for one of the world’s largest non-public, trade-only music industry events held every January in Anaheim, California and Summer NAMM every July.  The objective is for thousands of manufactures and merchants of musical instruments, recording gear and all things related to the industry essentially to gather and unveil their new lines for the new year.  By design, it’s an incredible opportunity for artists, producers, and engineers to negotiate new endorsement deals as well as network amongst each other.

For four days, NAMM takes over all three floors and the basement level of the Anaheim Convention Center.  Walking through the doors and entering on the main floor is like walking into the world’s largest Guitar Center.  At a total of 1,145,000 square feet of combined exhibitor, meeting and ballroom space, it’s a good idea to give yourself at least two full days to make your way through it all.  I like to start on the main level, walk all the way to the far end and just start meandering up and back each isle.  Doing this on the first day allows me to get my bearings and set up my agenda and areas of focus for the subsequent days.  Make sure you wear good walking shoes, get plenty of rest, and wake up on the right side of the bed before NAMM; it’s enough to wear out even the most diligent of industry pros both physically and mentally!  By the time the convention is over for the day I’m up for a power nap before hitting dinner and the star-studded events for the

This guy was so exhausted by the middle of Saturday he fell asleep in the drum section. 100's of drums being pounded on at the same time to different beats and he fell asleep!

This guy was so exhausted by the middle of Saturday he fell asleep in the drum section. 100’s of drums being pounded on at the same time to different beats and he fell asleep!


For myself, NAMM started out as a party to attend with some of my idols from the music business.  As I got older and more involved in the business professionally I began to wrap my head around what a dynamic and powerful business tool it really is.

While visiting the Line 6 suite this year, Vanessa in artist relations introduced me to their AMPLIFi series, brand new for 2014.  These amps feature a five speaker stereo design of two mid-bass drivers, two tweeters and a Celestian guitar speaker all combined to deliver an incredible sound.  These solid-state beauties also have Bluetooth technology.  That’s right; you can stream audio through your mobile device and play guitar along with it, or simply play tunes while entertaining friends Line6-AMPLIFi-Remoteat your poolside barbeque.  As if that weren’t enough, they’ve also developed an app for different guitar tones that will even suggest specific settings to emulate tones from your favorite songs.  Nicely done Line 6.  Negotiations for an endorsement to get one or two of these in my studio are underway.

By day two I have my complete itinerary set up; which product demos I’d like to attend, where the performances are going to be, and which artists are making appearances where.  This year I attended the Pro Tools tutorial at the Universal Audio booth where they discussed the new functionality of Pro Tools 11.  It was an extremely informative and valuable lesson as Pro Tools is the most widely used digital audio workstation in studios across the world, mine included.  It was also great to see a resurgence in the vintage specs of some of the big name manufactures like Marshall.  Marshall has expanded their HANDWIREDRANGE_NEW_press-ad-BG_V2-cropped-2-1920x960Handwired series by adding four new models to the 2014 line-up.  This is a phenomenal line of amps that are meticulously wired by human hands replicating the craftsmanship, quality, and sounds of Marshall’s early influential all-valve workhorses.  This is an excellent move by Marshall for old school guys like me, and a great way to introduce young cats to authentic, classic British tone while avoiding the hunt and ungodly expense of actual vintage gear.

geezer butler

Black Sabbath Bassist Geezer Butler

Also of particular note is that Tama Drums is celebrating 40 years of cutting-edge drum making with the release of five anniversary snare drums; each a striking reissue of the company’s most popular models of the past four decades with minor updates.  I spent some time chatting with Terry Bissette of Tama and he walked me through the series one-by-one.  My personal favorites are the ‘80’s Bell Brass 6 ½ x 14 and the ‘90’s G-Maple 8 x 14.  The Tama T-Badges are beautifully replicated, relevant to the model’s decade with the 2014 anniversary year. Additionally, Each drum comes fitted in a hardshell case with a certificate of authenticity.  I have been playing Tama drums for 15 years and have played on most of these original snares.  These anniversary models are impeccable and I am super excited to add a few to my repertoire.  Between what Marshall and Tama are doing alone, 2014 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for what I like to call, “new vintage” gear.

Amidst the sensory overload of new toys, NAMM is also a who’s who of recording artists across every genre.  Being as the event is not open to the public, regardless of the caliber of celebrity, they can be spotted wandering the isles nonchalantly and socially.  After all, everyone is among peers at NAMM.  As part of a product endorsement deal these artists attend NAMM on behalf of the companies they endorse.  It’s a win-win for both partners as the artists will make an appearance, perform a demo or do a signing representing the company, and the artist gets to check out the new gear, socialize, and network with friends, and potentially land new endorsement deals.

There are faces that you’ll see every year, like former Quiet Riot/Ozzy Osbourne’s bassist Rudy Sarzo, who often demostom petersson editing software programs for Acid Software, or Poison’s Rikki Rockett who attends representing his own drum company, Rockett Drum Works.  It’s also a lottery of who else you might run into.  Many stars in the music industry develop friendships with folks at the companies they endorse so they will pop in just to catch-up with their pals.  Among those I ran into this year were Steven Tyler checking in on his buds at Shure Microphones, legendary Cheap Trick’s bassist Tom Petersson visiting Gretsch, and Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister chewing the fat with the Orange Amplifier family.  In previous years I’ve engaged in intelligent conversations with Keith Urban and Nile Rogers, strummed acoustic guitars in the Gibson suite with John Stamos, and this year attended an after party with Steven Tyler, Johnny Depp, and Marilyn Manson.

steven tylerBut it’s not just about the gear, the faces and the parties.  NAMM is a huge driving force behind music education.  Every year, the convention hosts a plethora of meetings focused on topics such as the importance of social media to the success of today’s artist, studio engineering techniques, and music publishing.  These break-out sessions are huge assets in aiding me with the continued and growing success of my own music publishing business in the film and television world.  As a non-profit organization, NAMM is affiliated with the Boys & Girls Club of America, VH1 Save the Music Foundation, the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, and many other charities that support the importance of music and arts education for today’s youth.  Together they are responsible for putting together events where children can learn about music from some of the industry’s top talent.

NAMM is an extravagant gathering that attracts all aspects of the entertainment field.  It’s a great place to make valuable new connections, mingle with celebrities in their element, and an unbelievable setting for building relationships, expanding your network, and increasing business opportunities.  Although only about a quarter of the size, if Anaheim in January isn’t an option for you, there’s always Summer NAMM in Nashville every year.

See you in next January.



Top and first right photo credit Kimberly Annette

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