Last month, Summer NAMM was held for the first time in Nashville’s beautiful new Music City Center, in what the organization is calling “the biggest Summer NAMM in five years.” Being a new Nashville resident, I was drawn to the event, which I’d not attended since 2004, after which pro audio manufacturers opted out in droves.
From the late ’90s, Summer NAMM had been on my regular trade show route through my years at PAR, Audio Media and Mix. It always had a refreshing, unique vibe; it was small, yet I could find many of the high-end audio companies I’d see at AES. Being a musician and engineer, the musical side was a plus—I’d always see some of the best musicians, engineers and producers the city offered at manufacturer-sponsored, off-site events. One year, Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill played for a small group of attendees at Ocean Way on the Row. At another site, I sipped moonshine and talked shop with audio heads at a listening party. Overall, the show had a good buzz (ha!) and it was time well spent.
Then came the blight. A combination of pro audio being sick of the arena, the show moving out of Nashville for four years, and the financial crisis slowed show attendance and exhibitors to a trickle. Even after it returned from exile in Indianapolis and Austin in 2008, times were still tough, with 2009 showing a 26-percent decrease in registration from the previous year. Can Summer NAMM un-jump the shark? It just might.
After this show, NAMM’s Website reported 1,150 brands from 422 exhibiting firms and a 12 percent increase over last year’s event—not huge numbers, but an uptick nonetheless. But numbers and a seasoned NAMM-goer’s experience are two different things and after entering the venue with low expectations, I was surprised.
The new venue is gorgeous, and parking is plentiful and an easy in and out. The exhibition space is upstairs, the ceilings are high and there are huge windows letting in tons of ambient light. There are some tasty new restaurants within blocks—the fried Shrimp BLT at Southern is to die for (literally, if you eat enough of them). I didn’t sample the food inside the Music City Center but there were plenty of good-looking options, including healthy fare. In true Nashville style, when I went to registration, the attendant said, “I remember your name!” (Being a Californian more than anything, the friendliness of this city still takes me aback.)
At first, entering the exhibit hall on Day 2 was disappointing. Attendance was light, and audio booths were organized poorly and scattered throughout the space. The entire show was smaller, by far, than a single hall at Winter NAMM, but the quality of exhibitors was very good. It was mostly small distributors and owner-operated audio companies. PMI, Prism, Rupert Neve, Tonelux, Essential Sound Products, Pro Audio Design, MXL and Antelope Audio were there, to name a few. The bigger players like Sony, Korg and Yamaha were also present. The show had completely different feel than past Summer NAMMs; the floor was more like a large Potluck Conference, the Tucson-based audio event. Exhibitors had extended time to chat, and some had impressive new products. I had a chance to shake hands and chat with Chuck Surack and Mitch Gallagher from Sweetwater who were walking around the show.
Part of the experience of a great trade show is the learning factor, and I learned a lot. Dave Malekpour from Pro Audio Design told me about a remote speaker tuning he did for a studio in Australia. It was a multi-hour Skype session for a client who bought the Augspurger GA-215VS-A3 monitors (which sounded great in the booth). It was a test case offered to save the client about $9,000, and it ended up being the solution—they were pleased with the results.
I had a great chat with Karl Kussmaul of Sony about the company’s PHA-1 portable headphone amp. It has a built-in D/A converter (24-bit/96kHz), mini jack, micro USB, iOS device inputs and 1-inch and 1/8-inch outputs, and a built-in battery. It is a pocket unit that steps up the quality of a portable listening device.
I got a sneak peak at an IO/preamp/converter coming out later this year (I promised not to name names, but it’s impressive). I also saw the latest version of a product I’d been following for a few years now. It’s not strictly audio but it affects what we record—guitars. Tronical has brought its tuning system down to a much simpler system where you don’t have to alter your instrument. Calling it elegant is an understatement. The microprocessor-controlled, servo-based tuners all sit on the headstock and it is amazing. I’m a guitar player and I immediately “got it.” Check it out at tronical.com.
So has Summer NAMM returned? I was impressed. Another factor that may drive its return is cost of exhibiting, which, according to one exhibitor, was very affordable. The show, on the last day, was mobbed. It was open to the public (anyone can get in for $25), making it seem more like Winter NAMM. Next year it will grow for certain and I think this show may be a contender. It’s well between other big audio shows, it’s well-positioned, back where it should stay, in the greatest city for music and audio recording on the planet: Nashville, Tennessee.