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Industry Greets 2009 at NAMM

by Christopher Walsh. The 2009 Winter NAMM Show, held January 15-18 at the Anaheim Convention Center, illustrated an industry marked both by a global economic slowdown and relentless technological evolution.

by Christopher Walsh.

The 2009 Winter NAMM Show, held January 15-18 at the Anaheim Convention Center, illustrated an industry marked both by a global economic slowdown and relentless technological evolution.

A noticeably quiet opening day–an illustration of companies shedding jobs and reducing business travel–gave way to more typically crowded Days 2 and 3, as retailers and rock ‘n’ rollers mingled with exhibitors and media in a cacophonous display of musical instruments, sound reinforcement and recording technology, and all manner of ancillary products from sheet music to studio scheduling software.

“Given the scenarios we were facing and how, for example, other shows are doing, I was pleasantly surprised,” NAMM president/CEO Joe Lamond tells Pro Sound News. “The turnout and spirit of the attendees and the tone of the show were about as good as they could have been.

“In January, no matter how the holiday season went, everybody’s fired up with hope for the year ahead,” Lamond adds. “The NAMM Show catapults them into 2009.” Who knows what will happen in the year ahead, but new products were introduced, vendors met with their retailers and worked out deals, and long-term friendships and commitments that make these things work were solidified, he observes.

Products falling into the broad professional audio category continue to increase as a percentage of the whole, as digital recording has proliferated throughout the computer-savvy public. This phenomenon is music to the ears of manufacturers and retailers. “That may be the single greatest opportunity of our industry,” says Lamond. “This could be one of those golden ages we’re in, where the general public is feeling that they can be involved.”

NAMM’s “Wanna Play” market development program will launch a film contest in the spring, Lamond adds. “People are doing YouTube videos or stuff for their MySpace or Facebook page. We’re launching a contest to find people who want to create short films that are related to music making or the business of music. Think about how these things are blurring for the general public. It isn’t just for the pro users anymore, and I think that’s why the business is growing.”

Not surprisingly, the most action at NAMM was found in the software realm: Computer-based music creation is marked by ever-more refined processing and manipulation of audio. Examples of the pinpoint control, ease and speed with which the professional, the prosumer and just about anyone else can create and process audio abounded.

Simultaneous to this “miniaturization” and “virtualization” evolution, trade secrets are increasingly available to any interested party. Waves, for example, is emphasizing collaborative partnerships with top engineer/producers such as Tony Maserati, Eddie Kramer and Jack Joseph Puig. These “Waves Masters” have allowed all recordists into the control room, so to speak, with products such as the Jack Joseph Puig Collection and free downloadable Puig presets. Producer/engineers Steve Lillywhite, Mike Hedges and Dave Pensado have also shared their personal Waves presets.

Of course, the essential and traditional audio products were also represented among the NAMM Show’s 1,505 exhibitors, and here, too, advances in design and manufacture are delivering greater quality and clarity to end-users. “The just-UL-approved active AE22 monitors from Acoustic Energy are a new entry in the medium 2-way active monitor market,” engineer Rich Breen observes, “and have some interesting and solid engineering ideas behind them. The fact that they are non-ported makes them unusual in that sector, and accurate time-domain response is the main design goal. I have a set in my room at the moment–I think the first and only set in the U.S. so far–and have been enjoying them.

“I also liked AEA’s new stereo mic pre targeted at ribbon mics,” Breen adds of TRP (The Ribbon Pre). “It has a few neat features, notably two highly targeted tonal adjustments: one for taming the often excessive proximity effect of ribbons, and the other a high-frequency lift. I don’t know how well they work, but those are the two things I almost always find myself needing to do to a ribbon in post.”

Like the historic Presidential Inauguration that closely followed, the 2009 Winter NAMM Show served to delineate past and future. Though attendance was only modestly down–3 percent–from the previous year, conversation was largely focused on perceptions of the economy and predictions for the new year. Retailers, intimately familiar with bleak sales figures in the fourth quarter of 2008, know that even the vibrant world of computer-based audio production is not immune to recession, or worse.

And yet, the demand for content hasn’t slowed. A connected, digital world–high-speed internet, smart phones and satellite television and radio–is hungry for the multimedia content, to which Lamond refers, that is enabled by the products concentrated in the Anaheim Convention Center’s Hall A.

“Everybody with a Facebook or MySpace wants multimedia now,” Lamond summarizes. “It’s a great opportunity for all our businesses to start taking a look at how we blend those more, and get more of the general public involved. I think there are great opportunities there.”