The National Association of Music Merchants, or NAMM, is the epicenter of a $17 billion music products industry, an active and innovative association of 10,300 members from over 100 countries.

The 2018 Winter NAMM Show, which ran from January 25–28 in Anaheim, California, featured 7,000 brands, 2,000 exhibiting companies and 500 educational classes. In total the event garnered 115,085 registrants, with 60-70,000 people on any of its four days. Each attendee came to witness the latest and best products in the music industry, plus surprise performances and celebrity appearances along the way.

Without further ado, Behind the Setlist offers our favorite finds from NAMM Show 2018, curated by our journalist-on-the-ground and first-time NAMM attendee, Zane Foley.

Fender Room

It comes as no surprise Fender would have one of the largest presences at NAMM. The legacy brand is synonymous with musicians, guitars and rock ‘n’ roll. This year’s Fender exhibition did not fall short of expectations.

On full display was Fender’s Acoustic California Series. Hundreds of freshly tuned guitars lined the walls, available for anyone to pick up and play. Although the ensemble of musicians created a bit of a cacophony, Fender thankfully provided private booths equipped with electric guitars, personal amps, pedals and high-end headphones.

Musicians formed impromptu bands in echoing corners, electric guitarists hummed away as NAMM attendees marveled at the signed guitars on display by Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. Many mouths drooled over an outrageous nine-neck guitar. With the entire exhibition constructed of pearl white edifices, the Fender room was indeed heaven on earth.

Yamaha All-Star Concerts

Each night after the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) closed its doors at 6 pm, the Yamaha All-Star Concert came alive. NAMM Show attendees funneled between the ACC and the Hilton Hotel to the outdoor Yamaha stage. Those fortunate enough to make it to the Yamaha exhibition beforehand were complemented participatory bracelets that connected wearers to a synchronized light show via bluetooth.

Thousands gathered on Friday around the stage as acclaimed violinist Lindsay Sterling, known for her ability to perform intense choreography routines while playing, put on an absolutely riveting performance. Other musicians who performed included Marc Broussard, Butch Walker, Melissa Etheridge, Sam Moore and Shelea.

On Saturday funk legend Bootsy Collins performed “Together We Can” alongside children from Anaheim’s Loara Elementary and Chicago’s Country Club Hills. Throughout NAMM Show and surrounding satellite venues, scores of musicians provided NAMM goers with a bounty of live music. Perhaps the most talked about performance, however, was from a comedian, Demetri Martin, who took the ACC stage on Saturday.

All Industry Drum Circle

There was no better encapsulation of NAMM’s powerful sense of community than the All Industry Drum Circle that took place Friday night at the Hilton Palm Court. The NAMM Show, in collaboration with Remo, provided hundreds of hand drums and percussion instruments to drummers and non-drummers alike. The jam began at 5:45 and went healthily past 7 as hundreds amassed in a large circle of cement amphitheater-like seats.

“Give me three drums this time!” yelled the conductor, cleaving his fists 1, 2, 3. “Give me four this time!” and the subsequent 1, 2, 3, 4 of 100 drums roared out in unison. “Give me 100 drums this time!” and sure enough, silently in everyone’s heads, 100 beats rang out in unison. The conductor signaled the last three beats and, slicing his hands in a motion of decapitation, everyone stopped on beat while holding their breath before erupting in applause and congratulations.

Head over to our Instagram to see the footage for yourself.

Merchant Craftsmanship and Innovation

Around every corner was something new to behold. With over 7,000 brands and 2,000 exhibiting companies, the diversity of merchants displaying their expertise in craftsmanship and innovation is just one of the facets that makes NAMM a leading force in the music industry.

Attendees saw everything from world-class harps and handcrafted mandolins to virtual reality DJ turntables and invisible drum sets. Yes, you read that right—invisible drum sets. Aerodrums takes traditional drum sticks and equips them with reflective balls at their tips and reflective panels attached to a user’s feet, while a camera captures the user’s movements. You can watch a NAMM drummer strike away at thin air on our Instagram and hear for yourself a perfectly tensioned drum set without seeing one.

There are hundreds of brands and products worthy of making this list. At the top, companies like Martin & Co, Taylor, Guild, Breedlove Guitars, Black 35 Guitars and Avedissian Pickups continued to showcase the craftsmanship necessary to create world-class instruments.

Classes for the Masses

To ensure the fostering growth of the music industry, NAMM has grown into a palpable provider of education. The ACC provided enough space for over 500 educational classes over the four-day span. Free classes were offered for engineers, producers, mixers, technicians and those in the music business.

Mix with the Masters brought in mixer masters Al Schmitt, Jimmy Douglas, Tony Maserati and Tom Lord-Alge to teach on mixing. QSC brought in Craig Anderton for their TouchMix-30 Pro Studio lesson and Pro Tools had hands-on classes throughout the entire NAMM Show.

Attendees also had the opportunity to participate in educational classes provided by NAMM Partners at the new NAMM University Education Center in the Anaheim Hilton. Nearly every one of these classes offered special discounts on future classes. Mix with the Masters, for example, offered three months free when subscribing during NAMM.

International Presence

One of the incredible aspects of the 2018 NAMM Show that cannot go unrecognized was the amazing international presence. According to the press release issued after the show, international attendees increased by eight percent, with representation from over 100 countries totaling 19,356 registrants.

For exhibitors like Sabian’s Andy Zildjian, the international gathering at NAMM meant, “You have four days to meet the world. Anybody who has a stake in the industry is here, whether it’s distributors, manufacturers, retailers, players, everyone.” The international presence provided manufactures, both domestic and abroad, a unique opportunity to showcase their latest and greatest.

“As a major supplier and vendor of products, there’s no place else we’d rather be,” affirmed Joe Castronovo of KORG U.S.A. “NAMM’s the global gathering place. It’s where you go to find out everything about our industry on a global basis,” said Larry Morton, President of Hal Leonard Corp.

The sheer number of Chinese instruments, the craftsmanship of German woodworking, the Italian pianos named as beautifully as the sounds they produced, all served as proof.

Grand Finale Event: Honoring Dominique Picandet

For NAMM’s grand finale event on Saturday night, retiring Associate Director Dominque Picandet was honored for her 34 years of service with NAMM. Introduced with a heartfelt speech from NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond, Picandet recounted her NAMM experiences spanning over three decades.

After her speech, Lounge 88, a ballroom on the third floor of the ACC, turned into a concert hall with over 50 pianos. Conductor Kimo Furumoto raised his arms and saluted the pianists at the ready with their sheet music. The lights dimmed while onlookers knelt for all to see and hear in perfect harmony Gustav Holst’s “The Planets – Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity and John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The music rung aloud from the prestigious pianos and pianists in unison, a once in a lifetime experience that aptly honored Picandet as a proper close to the show.

One bonus note: NAMM displayed the piano presented in Ford Theatre the night President Lincoln was assassinated, the first ever of its showing and a grand finale that did not disappoint.

For those looking to attend and connect in the future, the Summer NAMM Show will be at Nashville’s Music City Center in June. The NAMM Show also returns next year to Anaheim from January 24-27.

All photos by Zane Foley.


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