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Mix Blog Studio: Must the Show Go On?

January 2021 is only six months away, and NAMM, as of today, is planning on a January show in Anaheim. Mike Levine asks, Is this the right decision?

NAMM made a smart decision to cancel this year’s Summer show in Nashville because of the risk of COVID-19 transmission. But as of today, the organization has decided to go on with its winter 2021 show in Anaheim. I think they’re making a big mistake.

AES, on the other hand, made a wise choice to turn its Fall 2020 Show to an entirely virtual affair. I’m not privy to any inside decision-making, but clearly an in-person show this October would be risky, and probably wouldn’t be well-attended. Heck, according to guidelines today, California residents, among others, would have to arrive 14 days early and self-quarantine. That wouldn’t work. Of course, tracking the virus is a moving target, and NAMM’s decision could shift to Plan B at any point.

What AES has in mind, meanwhile, sounds pretty cool. They’re turning the convention into a month-long celebration called “Audio Engineering Month.” Anyone with an Internet connection and the bucks to buy a badge (right now, they’re offering early bird rates: $99 for AES Members and $224 for non-members) can log into the full convention content.

AES describes it as “live and on-demand content, student and career activities, engagement with peers and audio luminaries, the audio hardware and software product showcase and special events throughout the month.”

But from January 21-24 in Anaheim, the NAMM show is going ahead as scheduled at the Anaheim Convention Center. To its credit, NAMM is making a big effort to make the show experience safer. But trying to mitigate the spread of the virus indoors is a tall order, no matter what measures are put in place.

Even before our current predicament, it was pretty common for attendees to get sick after NAMM. There are industry jokes that refer to post-NAMM sickness as “The Rockin’ Nammonia,” and “Nammthrax.” Add COVID-19 into the mix, and it becomes scary.

Even six months from now, it may very well be unsafe to have an indoor event the size of NAMM. In parts of California, including Orange County, where Anaheim is located, the virus has flared up again after the curve was initially flattened during the lockdown period.

According to the LA Times from July 13, “Over the past two weeks, the county has recorded 11,439 new cases, failing the standard for disease transmission.” Who’s to say that Orange County won’t have restrictions in place at the time of the show?

Even if, by some miracle, an effective vaccine is developed and widely distributed by January, how many attendees will feel safe? I know I won’t. But if NAMM keeps their plans and holds the show, many employees of the exhibiting companies will likely have no choice but to go, and many will have to fly to get there, which opens them up to even more risk.

Read more Mix Blog Studio: Give Yourself a Break.

And what about the large contingent of exhibitors from Europe and Asia. Are they going to want to come to a country with such a huge COVID problem? Much of Europe is currently restricting travel from the United States. As of this writing, the U.S. is restricting travelers from both the EU (Schengen-area countries) and China.

Odds are very good that some of the attendees walking around whatever hall you’re in will be from areas of the country that are virus hotspots. Do you want to pick up a guitar or a saxophone or play a keyboard at a booth after who knows who has been playing it? Do you really want to touch the controls on that new compressor?

What’s more, the social aspects of NAMM—the handshakes, the business card exchanges, the dinners, the hangouts and the drinking—which are essential for doing business, are all no-nos in the current COVID environment.

With all that to look forward to, I can’t see the show getting much attendance. If I were NAMM, I’d cancel the live show and go 100 percent virtual. Yes, there will be financial losses, and that’s hard. But let’s be real, nobody is going to make much money or get many orders at a woefully under-attended show, and it will likely be pretty risky for those who are there.

C’mon NAMM. Why roll the dice when you have alternatives? Do the right thing and go virtual. It’s the only option that makes sense.