Seeing Is Believing at NAMM

The NAMM Show, the annual—and definitive—tradeshow that serves the world’s music industry, is one of the most successful events in the business. This year it consumed 518,000 net square feet of the Anaheim Convention Center (and would probably have taken more if it had been available).

The show produced each year by the National Association of Music Merchants counted somewhere around 97,000 attendees and, as my friend, colleague and fellow blogger Stephanie Selesnick points out, the show turns away more people than it lets in. There were more than 1,500 exhibiting companies, 289 of them first-time exhibitors. Somewhere north of 260 concerts and other kinds of musical events were held in and around the show.

The show has been held in Anaheim for 35 years and managed by the ubiquitous Kevin Johnstone for nearly a quarter of a century. So, face it—this show works.

But being there and experiencing it for yourself is the only way to really understand how successful it is. Here is some of what I saw last week (keeping in mind that I’m old and might have gone to bed before the real fun started):

• Eddie Van Halen, walking alone through the lobby during set-up with an acoustic guitar strapped to his shoulder, and nobody but me knowing who he is.

• The Rickenbacker Guitars booth, making it clear with all its branding that its guitars are “Made in the USA,” adjacent to the Beijing 797 Audio booth, demonstrating a (mostly) healthy tension between musical instruments and equipment that were home-grown and those that came from somewhere else.

• That dichotomy further highlighted by the groups of Asians in ties and business suits passing by the throngs of young women with purple hair and short skirts, followed by older men with receding hairlines, pony tails, black jackets and boots.

• Police officers on horseback cutting a path for taxis through an overflow crowd for the opening-night performance of Tower of Power.

• A reporter and video crew recording a story and interview for Disc Jockey News.

• The 10 “noise narcs” Johnstone employs to patrol the aisles with Geiger counter-like devices to assure that each exhibitor keeps to its agreed-upon 85-decimal limit (or at least somewhere close to it).

• The basement Hall E, which Johnstone describes as having the “coolest vibe,” where the Pukanala Ukuleles booth is next to Keyoto INH, a woodwind maker from Tianjin, China, which is next to Propik Finger and Thumb Picks.

• Huge bins at the entrance to the showfloor full of what the sign describes as “NAMM complimentary hearing protection,” i.e., earplugs.

• One more pony-tailed attendee at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in a T-shirt with the words “Munchy’s Ink Addiction Tattoos” emblazoned on the back, listening to the U.S. Marine Corps Band play the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

• Stages on each side of the lobby of both convention center hotels, the Marriott and the Hilton, so that one band could start performing the instant the one on the other side of the room stopped.

• Finally, Anaheim Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau President and CEO Charles Ahlers telling the ribbon-cutting ceremony crowd, “Size does matter, and NAMM knows all about that.”

You had to be there.

Michael Hart is executive editor of EXPO Magazine. He can be reached at

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Posted by Michael Hart

Michael Hart is the executive editor of Expo. Reach him at View all articles by Michael Hart →