The National Association of Music Merchants Show Attracts Metal Luminaries, Newfound Kinship
The National Association of Music Merchants Show Attracts Metal Luminaries, Newfound Kinship

The 2012 National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show saw 95,709 registered attendees checking out 1,441 exhibitors, educational seminars, jam sessions and artist signings over four days in Anaheim, California. The turnout was up from 90,114 in 2011, and big-name attendees included Brian Wilson, Alice Cooper, Stevie Wonder, Jackson Browne, John Mayer, and the usual huge complement of metal artists from newer bands like Between the Buried and Me to established lineups including Anthrax, Testament, Alice In Chains, Megadeth and Slayer. Rumors included a Van Halen hotel suite set and a visit from Paul McCartney, but neither materialized.

NAMM, a non-for-profit association that unifies and leads the $17 billion global musical instruments and products industry, organizes activities and programs designed to promote music-making to people of all ages. But it's also traditionally a fan-oriented heavy music schmooze-fest, with the Hilton and Marriott bars packed tightly and loudly with industry revelers and musicians until closing time, guests boasting plenty of guyliner and skimpy, skintight duds, no doubt to the horror of any non-NAMM hotel guests.

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Grammy-winning jazz guitarist-singer George Benson greets Scottish folk-pop musician Donovan at the 110th NAMM Show, the largest music instruments and products trade show in North America, held over four days at the Anaheim Convention Center, Jan. 19-22 (Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images)

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The last surviving member of The Mamas and the Papas, Michelle Phillips, and singer-songwriter John Mayer show off their new Martin Guitars at the NAMM Show's Media Preview Day (Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images)

Still, many at the 110th annual shindig found more "synergy" and less partying than at previous conventions, with SOPA/PIPA, and the proliferation of music-related apps taking the forefront of many discussions. With omnipresent technology, the importance of face-to face interaction was cited as a major reason to trek to the trade show. "NAMM is the annual rock n roll reunion of the East Coast/Europe people I see but once a year. That's fine in this day and age when actual phone calls often take a back seat to texts and IM," says DJ Will of KNAC/That Metal Show.

"It's like the old New Music Seminar, and everyone knows a lot of the business is not necessarily done during the day, it's in the evening, at the bars," says Metal Blade chairman/CEO Brian Slagel, whose label had about 12 bands in attendance. Slagel notes that while industry players from major labels aren't generally present, "you're going to see people from all the indies here. As a metal label, I think fans understand if they don't support the artists, the bands aren't going to be around."

Century Media COO Brian Sharp concurs. "NAMM is one of the places where metal is still king. Though it's a trade show, you can see by the lines at the signings that people are here to meet the artists. While we're concerned about digital downloads, the one advantage we have as a mostly metal label is that our consumers still value the physical product. If it's jut a song someone hears on the radio or at a club, they just want that track, and if they can get it for free, they will. Our fans value the CD, or LP, with the artwork.'

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Rob Halford, lead singer of Judas Priest, arrives at the NAMM Show, the largest music instruments and products trade show in North America, held over four days at the Anaheim Convention Center, Jan. 19-22 (Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images)

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The last surviving member of The Mamas and the Papas, Michelle Phillips, greets singer-songwriter Brian Wilson at the NAMM Show's Media Preview Day, held Jan. 18 at the Anaheim Convention Center (Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images)

Many of the more established musicians in the business since the 70s expressed the need for finding and understanding a new model that works in the quickly moving current music biz climate. "I just don't know how any young band can make any money, because they can't protect their songs," observes Alice Cooper. "I tell 'em to be the best live band they can be, because that's really the only edge you have. I feel sorry for them. We came from the golden age where you actually sold records. I don't know what their incentive is except just to play. I feel sorry for them."

To assist creators in protecting their music, six years ago NAMM set up attorneys from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in a lobby both. They answer questions and provide handouts about intellectual property rights, patents, trademarks and copyrights, at a time, when, as former Louisiana Governor and U.S. Congressman Buddy Roemer, noted, "80 percent of piracy originates in China."

More than ever, direct artist involvement is key on every level of a musicians' career. Harold Lee, CEO/Founder of Music Prodigy, who launched their new artist-branded apps a month prior to NAMM, says, "We're music education with technology using interactive, real-time software that's mobile." They boast major investors including Warner Brothers Records chairman Rob Cavallo, and stress direct artist involvement in the final product. "We use the master recordings," Lee explains. "Our first launch was done closely with Megadeth's Dave Mustaine. He spent hours making it right, and the user is hearing Dave Mustaine tell you what to do." Echoing the more DIY-trend embraced by many at NAMM, Lee concludes: "Artists are looking for places that are entrepreneurial to be involved with."