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Best Summer NAMM Since 2006!

...readily apparent to visitors on the show floor: “Pretty much a repeat of last year’s show,” was the commonly heard refrain. However, at a time when “flat is the new up,” has become the industry mantra, an improving trade show bodes well for the balance of the year. One hundred companies including Studio Linked VST, Ortega Guitars, OwnPhones, Pedalboard Supplies, and Bugera made their Summer NAMM debuts. Another 65 companies returned to the show after a hiatus from exhibiting including Orange Amplification, Peavey Electronics Corp., and Alesis.

Putting the numbers aside, most who made the trek to Nashville for the three day event found the experience more than worthwhile. As one supplier put it, “We didn’t spend much, but we got the chance to meet with local dealers, as well as all the national accounts. It was definitely a decent investment.” Offering a retailer’s vantage point, Jon Haber of Alto Music in Middletown, New York added, “Spending time with suppliers and other retailers is always worthwhile.” Chuck Surack of Sweetwater gave an even more forceful endorsement, stating, “I couldn’t imagine not coming to this show. We have at least 20 people here—buyers, sales management, and marketing including people creating web content. And I love Nashville. At this show I spend quality time with products and vendors, really getting to talk with people, friends.” Add Nashville’s good food, great music, and stellar hospitality to the mix, and the show was unquestionably a success.

With NAMM’s January show firmly established as the global showcase for new product introductions, the Summer show has become the “overflow” event. As one supplier explained, “The stuff the engineers can’t finish in time for Winter NAMM, we launch in Nashville.” Although the “overflow” at Nashville is dwarfed by the torrent of new gear in January, the introductions still highlight important trends and include a number of products destined to make an impact in the fourth quarter.

Cheaper, Faster, Better

The same advancing technology that has collapsed the prices of flat panel television sets and smartphones was is having a serious impact on the music products industry, as evidenced by new products in Nashville. Exhibit A for the trend was Casio’s new CGP-700 (for Compact Grand Piano), an 88-note piano featuring 550 voices and 200 rhythm patterns, a brilliant full color touchpad interface, and an MSRP of $799. Only a few years ago, a similar feature set would have cost four or five times more. The improved price/value is a definite benefit for the buying public, but a mixed blessing for the industry. Suppliers and retailers alike have to move a lot more units to achieve the same revenue.

Maybe it’s dissatisfaction with the present, some romanticized vision of the past, or just a desire for something different, but whatever the reason, the buying public seems to have an insatiable desire for all things retro. In Nashville, Martin Guitar addressed this demand, introducing the 00-15E Retro, a vintage looking 14-fret non-cutaway guitar with a visually distinctive 15-style burst. The “retro” craze isn’t limited to guitars, however. Yamaha evoked classic keyboards of the past with four reface keyboards: as in “reimagining” the “interface.” The new line of full-featured 37-note instruments includes an updated version of the 1960s-era Yamaha Combo organs; the 1975 Yamaha Combo Piano; the ’76 Yamaha CS synth line; and the 1983 DX-7. After viewing the new line, Chuck Surack of Sweetwater Sound commented, “They’ll create a new market.” Roland also looked backward for new product inspiration, introducing a 40th anniversary version of its classic Jazz Chorus amp. The updated model features the “JC clean” tone and signature “Dimensional Space Chorus” in a more portable 40-watt format.

Trade shows provide a unique opportunity to gauge the direction of the market, and Nashville was no exception. Exhibit traffic, dealer orders, and comments on the show floor offered insights into what consumers are buying now. Based on where the crowds went, acoustic guitars remain at the top of the wish list. For acoustic guitar makers, the financial crisis is a dim memory as they scramble to build enough guitars to fill orders. Top U.S. makers Martin, Taylor, Breedlove, and Collings are all in the process of ramping up production. Unfortunately, it can’t be done overnight. As Tom Bedell of Breedlove and Bedell guitars explained, “It takes time to train people to build guitars, and  you can only increase your production so fast without having quality issues.”

As the acknowledged Country Music Capital of the world, Nashville boasts an exceedingly high number of “pickers per capita,” which also explains why Summer NAMM has a well-earned reputation as a guitar show. However, the show has quietly been attracting an increasing number of school music retailers and exhibitors. This growth is driven in part by the exceptional resilience of school music programs nationwide. As David Via, vice president of sales for D’Addario, put it, “You hear all this bad news about budget cuts, but our sales suggest that school programs a doing really well.” School retailers also seem to find Nashville’s low-key atmosphere conducive to doing business. Sheryl Laukat of Cannonball Musical Instruments reported a full book of appointments for the show. “Our dealers were here,” she said. Aubrey Carwile of Gwinnett Discount Music in Lawrenceville, Georgia confirmed the trend, adding, “We do our buying for our fall school rental and Christmas seasons, so we are here placing orders.”

In the percussion market, the consumer preference for electronic drumsets, particularly at entry-level price points, has created continuing challenges. The shift to electronics has resulted in withering price competition among drumset makers. It has also impacted the percussion accessory market: players using an electronic key go through fewer sticks, and don’t need heads or cymbals. “It’s a continuing trend that we have to deal with,” said one drum maker.

Greece and its ongoing financial woes dominated the headlines for the duration of the Nashville show. Would the tiny nation default and get kicked out of the Eurozone, or would it secure a last-minute bailout? The connection between high global finance and the efforts to sell music products to the American public are not readily apparent. However, given the global nature of the market, U.S.-based manufacturers are rightly concerned. Greece’s woes have tanked the value of the euro against the dollar. For American companies, that means 15% to 20% price increases: not an ideal recipe for growing sales. Problems in Europe could have a ripple effect on the ability of suppliers to market and promote in the U.S. Time will tell.

For more from Summer NAMM, see our August issue!

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