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“New Concept” Musikmesse Debuts In Frankfurt

...nearly 110,000 visitors from 130 countries turned out for Musikmesse and its sister Prolight + Sound show this year, up from 108,408 in 2015. A total of 2,043 companies from 60 countries exhibited. Since the numbers don’t separate Musikmesse from Prolight + Sound—a far stronger show in recent years—it’s hard to quantify the impact of the changes. Around the fairground, though, the signs were everywhere. The new format in a nutshell: invite consumers to all four days of the show and convert it from a traditional trade fair to an all-out musical extravaganza. “We are on the right track with the reorientation of our strong trade fair duo,” Messe Frankfurt Board of Management member Detlef Braun said in a statement after the show. “Against the background of changing sales and distribution structures in the wake of digitalization, we will continue in this direction together with the sector and fine-tune the fairs in cooperation with the associations and exhibitors.”

Without key European distributors including GEWA, Meinl, and Warwick, however, this show was a different animal in more ways than one. Major manufacturers including Martin and Taylor guitars also chose not to attend. Tracing the fair’s challenges back several years, it’s clear Musikmesse has been squeezed through no real fault of its own by dual realities of the modern business world. On one side: the proliferating ways to do business online without the travel and expense of a trade show. On the other side: the growth in Asian markets, particularly China, compared to the tepid performance of European markets. Tracking the numbers, traffic has shifted toward the Music China fair in Shanghai, also a Messe Frankfurt production.

As a result, Musikmesse needed to reimagine its role—which Messe Frankfurt acknowledged plainly enough in its announcement of a “New Concept.” As that vision debuted this April, it was clear a lot of thought went into making Frankfurt into a musical hotspot. Four performance stages hummed all day during show hours while food trucks served up eclectic fare on the show’s central plaza. At night, the festivities migrated to 30 concert venues around Frankfurt, drawing a reported 20,000 music fans and turning the show into a city-wide phenomenon. For the more business-minded, Germany’s Society of Music Merchants (SOMM) hosted a series of forums in German and English.

But did it all add up to a worthwhile experience for Musikmesse’s exhibitors? The answer for many was yes, though it might matter how you approached the show. Seemingly the happiest exhibitors were those who arrived with a clear game plan and did the homework of setting meetings and objectives beforehand. Perhaps another way to put it is that “if you build it, they will come” is no longer a winning strategy: In years past it might have made sense to buy booth space in Frankfurt just knowing you’d cross paths with Europe’s major players in one place. Today, more than ever, the show favors the prepared.

For U.S. readers used to the more raucous atmosphere of the NAMM shows, it’s worth noting that the consumer factor didn’t turn this event into a circus. By most accounts, the fair drew engaged music consumers more than party animals in search of a place to make noise, and many exhibitors came away enthusiastic about interacting with the musicians actually using their products. On the other side, those who chose locations in Messe’s “B2B” area for trade visitors only also seemed pleased with their decision—and in truth, the difference was dramatic. Inside the B2B zone, meetings proceeded with quiet efficiency, while just a floor away, the space dedicated to percussion and electric guitars was one of the loudest on the fairground.

Due to a tight deadline for this month’s issue of Music Trades, reaction to this first-of-its-kind Musikmesse was still filtering in at press time. Our coverage is “to be continued” with a complete report in the June issue, including exhibitor feedback, further analysis, and sights from around the show.

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