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Breakfast Of Champions Honors Trendsetters & Legacies

...here in 2015. At the other end of the program, NAMM presented its Music For Life Award to the prolific singer-songwriter and EDM legend Moby. In between, Breakfast of Champions also welcomed George Quinlan of leading retailer Quinlan & Fabish, Harman Professional President Blake Augsburger, third-generation accessories specialists John D’Addario III and Brian Ball, and recording artist Colbie Caillat. Getting back to the part about trends, NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond told the audience: “Trends can be very hard to predict—and sometimes they’re contradictory. Acoustic stringed instruments are driving the market at the same time as DJ and EDM. Music streaming is hitting an all-time high at the same time as vinyl records are making a comeback. Deciding which trends to take advantage of could be the most important move you ever make.”

As living proof that the industry never really knows what’s around the corner, Smith and Oberheim recalled the days in the mid-80s when digital replaced analog, seemingly for good. “Analog was dead,” said Oberheim. “I was pretty sure my career in synthesis was over.” Mysteriously, however, analog would creep back into style. Against all odds, both Smith and Oberheim came to the 2015 NAMM Show with brand new analog synth products—for Smith, the Prophet-6, his first product released under the Sequential Circuits name in 30 years. While analog’s comeback may defy easy explanation, Smith suggested today’s musicians crave a return to the individuality and hands-on control afforded by analog synths. “It’s the interaction, the way we strive to give the music personality,” he said. “Digital instruments are like computers—every one is exactly the same. With analog instruments, each one is a little bit different.”

Next to the stage was Augsburger, who discussed the changing face of the live sound market. When it comes to audio, video, and lighting for venues and events, he said, customers now seek each of these components as part of a single package. “They want a complete solution,” said Augsburger. “We’re seeing more reunion tours, more festivals—and that’s a business that had gone away during the recession. It’s great for our business, and it’s also great for retailers. How they get into it is to provide full-service, high-quality installations.”

A second-generation school music dealer, Quinlan weighed in on the unique dedication that makes the school music market work. “You can’t buy your way in,” he said. “You can’t get there through intimidation or slick tactics. You have to be there—for parents, for teachers, for festivals and concerts—every day.” Quinlan went on to suggest that in the wake of the great recession, when music programs were feared to be on the chopping block, the dedication of dealers and communities to their local programs helped soften the blow. “What we saw were cutbacks, but not programs being eliminated,” he said. “I think we owe that partly to advocacy, to our message getting through.”

Brian Ball, newly minted president of Ernie Ball strings, was joined onstage by D’Addario & Co.’s John D’Addario III. Each speaking as the third generation of a family business, the two addressed the challenges and privileges in carrying on a multi-generation legacy. “Consistency in a brand is king—consistency and attention to detail,” said D’Addario. “Knowing there’s a family behind that product that wants to live by the values of that name can really help a musician connect with the brand.” As Ball added, “It’s not just a family name—it’s heritage. There’s a lot of pride when you put your name on that package.” Both accessories makers, Ball and D’Addario also touched on the challenge of differentiating their brands from other small goods in a crowded marketplace. “A wall of strings can be like an aquarium of brands that are interchangeable,” said D’Addario, “but if you get the product right, it will be deemed not a commodity but a premium accessory.”

Supplying the star power for the morning’s session was Grammy Award winner Colbie Caillat, followed by Music For Life honoree Moby. Caillat spoke on the powerful sense of connection in performing for a live audience: “People want to see you live, playing the songs they hear in everyday life or at weddings that bring back memories and get them through life,” she said. Last up was the wildly eclectic Moby, who traced the many threads—from jazz fusion to punk rock to EDM—that fed into his style: “Just kind of hybridizing everything,” he said. Moby went on to echo Dave Smith’s thoughts on the resurgence of analog synthesizers and their pull for a new generation. “For musicians who’ve done everything with software, that hands-on experience is something entirely new,” he said. “The first time they touch an analog synth, their whole world expands.”

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