Behind the Setlist’s own Colin Poulton is on the ground at Summer NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) in Nashville July 13 through July 15. Check back for our daily recaps and make sure to follow us on Facebook for live streams from the show floor.

When we last left off, I had just spent Day One of NAMM on the Music City Center floor. The sheer size of the event makes covering it and hoping to tell the whole story of every booth at NAMM somewhat audacious. So, to make sure I don’t miss anything, let’s pick up with Thursday night, after I left the convention center.

The real hang at NAMM is after the show closes for the day and companies host events in collaboration with local clubs or retailers. I found myself at one of my favorite local haunts, Eastside Music Supply, where they were hosting Lone Wolf FX, a high-end pedal builder based in Austin, Texas. Lone Wolf FX, helmed by Joe Anastasio, caters to extreme genres of heavy music and connoisseurs of tweakable and high-quality tone. I had a lot of fun listening to the board being demoed by a few different players. There’s some great live video that I took over on Facebook, so be sure to follow us there! After leaving Eastside, I played a gig on Broadway and then crashed super late.

The next morning, the sun was shining but it’s been a largely mild summer in Nashville and this was another cool and overcast day. I saw a friend playing through the window at Legend’s Corner, a honky tonk on the corner of 5th and Broadway, and after I said “hey” to him, I found a plaque on the side of the building that I guess I had never stopped to notice before. It read “Nashville is a town that fosters creativity, and is a place where musicians have great respect.” A great sentiment, but it sat with a tinge of irony, as I find this famous Hunter S. Thompson quote a little more personally relatable: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

NAMM Idea Center

Like on Day One, my first stop once I got onto the floor was the Idea Center. I caught a talk about Instagram marketing and while I’m a millennial with an iPhone and hip zip-code credentials, I learned things from the talk, especially about the potential reach one has on Instagram. Instagram has 400 million daily users and is the place people go to connect, as opposed to Facebook and Twitter, which the speakers argued were perceived as being more for keeping up with friend/family and news, respectively.

The biggest thing they drove home was the importance of authenticity. There’s a Venn diagram between your interests and values as a company, brand, or retailer, and the interests and values of your customers. People want to see real life, and candid moments were encouraged more than staged poses and recreated moments. One big takeaway I had was the value of the Story feature on Instagram. If you correctly utilize the Story, your brand can consistently be at the very top of the home screen. The option to utilize both pictures and video in the story open up a world of potential and creativity.

Kiesel Guitars

After the sessions, I made the rounds and ran into a few friends, including Joe from Lone Wolf FX. After stopping by the Boss booth to try a few of their pedals that I see around a lot, I kept walking around and eventually found love at the Kiesel booth. I had drooled over a few guitars from their booth the day before (find the live video on Facebook!) so I took the opportunity to play a few. Eventually I settled on a HH2, which is one of the late Allan Holdsworth’s signature guitars, and I fell in love with it. On top of it being the best playing guitar I’ve ever held, it’s also a truly beautiful instrument. I’m going to make time to pay it a visit again tomorrow. In my short time playing that guitar, I learned a lot about what I do and don’t like in an instrument, and that’s where the value of being exposed to the gear at a trade show like NAMM is.

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Diarrhea Planet at Walrus Audio

Shortly after my hang at the Kiesel booth and talking to a few of the guys that work for them, a friend and I gradually started running into members of Diarrhea Planet, who happen to be good friends of ours. We eventually made our way over to the Walrus Audio booth where the raucous Nashville rock group played a short, intimate and uniquely lighthearted set of tunes, featuring four guitars, no bass, and drums on an electronic sample pad. Despite the parameters, it was still rock and roll as fuck. The guys from Diarrhea Planet are consummate gearheads and support tons of local builders and techs, a lot of whom were present at NAMM so they actually had a decent crowd gathered to watch them. My favorite musical moments are all a lot like that Diarrhea Planet performance: spontaneous.

Fender, Eventide H9

From there, I roamed around and saw a decent range of guitar companies. Fender had a great booth set up and I briefly lusted over a candy apple red American Professional Telecaster before I decided to stay loyal to that beautiful brunette Keisel that I was still in love with.

I watched a super futuristic demo of an Eventide H9 involving an iPad connected to the pedal via bluetooth. An older player with excellent groove was playing a Strat into an Eventide demo board into a Supro and was taken through a wide spectrum of tones by an Eventide tech manipulating the parameters of the sound via iPad. The range of that pedal was impressive; it could seemingly do anything and the guitarist noted that there was no latency to contend with; the pedal tracked well.

Option Knob

I also encountered the winner of Best in Show in the Accessories category. The Option Knob is a replacement knob for both standard and boutique effects pedals that allows for easier manipulation of the knobs by your foot. This allows for easier sound changes on the fly.

Colin’s Big Conclusion

The way to each booth was slow with plenty of lingering and conversation and that has been the real highlight of NAMM and where true innovation is rooted. Companies are debuting pedals and putting new stuff out into the market but at the end of the day, once it’s out, it’s out. People are already looking ahead and looking for the next problem they can solve. On Day Two, the melting pot spilled over and there was more exchange of ideas and actual connection with people at large than on Day One now that everyone had more or less gotten their bearings. The gear was still there as context but the room was more abuzz with energy than the sound of a million Guitar Centers clashing.

The big conclusion I came to today was that while the perception is that NAMM is about gear: the truth is that the gear is secondary to relationships—meeting new people and reconnecting with other people in the industry you don’t encounter in your day-to-day. That’s where the true exchange of ideas and information happens. The gear just gives everyone an immediate outlet and centerpiece for discussion if needed.

I literally had two organic conversations in a row with separate groups of people about this concept. One person I talked with said that at a place like NAMM, the barriers one usually puts up when talking about music are gone because the vetting of the other person’s level of musical interest isn’t in play. I agree with that sentiment. I watched people that had only previously sent a few Facebook messages to each other talk like they had known each other for years. I had a guitarist whose recordings I idolized when I was cutting my teeth on the instrument talk to me like an equal while showing me a piece of gear I had a genuine interest in. All of the walls were down.

If this sounds like a good time and you’re in Nashville, Saturday is Music Industry Day! Tickets are $20 on the day of the show so come and be a part of the story and share in on the triumphs of these excellent vendors. Just don’t lose sight on the relationships for the gear.

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