The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) is the world’s largest music technology convention in the world. Held in Anaheim, California one January weekend every year, thousands of major and minor names in various fields of instruments and instrument accessories come together to showcase their newest products to buyers, investors and retailers from around the world. Fender, Gibson, Orange, Zildjan, Korg, Ableton — if you can think of a brand name for any musical tool, from guitars to speakers to musical triangles, you can bet that you’d see their booth at NAMM. This year the event was held from Jan. 16 to 19. And just like every other year, the KUCR team attended to provide coverage on what the next big things are in sound technology.
One of the more notable observations one would have about NAMM is seeing the vast and various cultures that all play a part in the music world. It’s not often you’ll find a stringy haired denim metalhead walking in front of a rainbow colored EDM DJ while, in the booth to the right of them, a Lakers jersey clad soul musician slaps a funky bass line. In NAMM, however, this blend of different worlds is inevitable. Music encompasses all cultures, and chances are most of these very different people are using the same (if not similar) brands of tools to fully explore their artistic vision.
Still, NAMM isn’t just a place for the big brands to flaunt their popular products. Part of its charm comes from the countless displays that small independent businesses bring to the convention. This is where you can find truly weird and innovative instruments: the stuff you aren’t going to find at your local Guitar Center. Many of these brands have a small but impressive display in their booths with one-of-a-kind artwork, body shapes and a list of unique features. One guitar was the shape of a mermaid while a different booth had a guitar that was the shape of Bart Simpson’s head. We passed by one vendor who displayed a circular piano that the user stands inside. Another business specialized in making electric violins whose design emulated that of famous rock-and-roll guitars like the Flying V.
It’s only natural that the largest musical instrument convention in the world would have big names performing in various capacities. I was lucky enough to attend one such performance to end my personal stay at NAMM 2020 with pianist Robert Glasper and multi-instrumentalist Terrance Martin. Both Glasper and Martin are giants in the jazz and hip-hop world. Besides their own critically acclaimed music, their collaborations and separate work are responsible for various key contributions to the music of Kendrick Lamar, J-Cole and Kanye West, to name just a few. A limited amount of first-come, first-served space was allowed in the tiny Korg room, where Glasper and Martin were joined by an entire band of neo-jazz heavy hitters. They took the small crowd on a wild exploration on the possibilities of sounds. Unexplainable time signatures, screaming horns and otherworldly keyboard tones filled the room with the tension, followed by a descent into relaxation as the horns drawled down to soft hum and proper clean piano keys and a repeat of the process.
For many musicians, NAMM is the closest one can get to pure bliss. There is something to be greatly admired about the sheer size of the music world. Across all cultures around the world, music is one of the few constants that brings its people together. NAMM serves as a monument to that fact. While it is first and foremost a marketing event to sell products, underneath that is a celebration of all people and all things music.