Summer NAMM Offers Best In Show

Art Guitars by JD Vokes. Photo: Daniel Ethan Podolsky

By Daniel Ethan Podolsky

Imagine being surrounded in every direction by every type of instrument and accessory imaginable. Where any shape, size, color, make, model or even flavor of musical product is waiting for you to come test it out, all within one room. For musicians with bigger eyes than wallets, the Summer NAMM Convention—a gathering of the musical products industry held annually at the Nashville Convention Center—can be a dream come true.

From July 21-23, over 11,000 industry professionals representing 30+ countries were on hand to get up close and personal with the newest offerings from over 450 manufacturers—as well as to order a few for their own stores, and to network with others in the industry. The convention was expected to bring $13 million into the Nashville economy.

Summer NAMM has a mission to benefit the local, independent music retailers that survived the growth of behemoths such as Guitar Center or Sam Ash. In that spirit workshops and lectures, dubbed “NAMM U,” run all weekend with titles such as “Successful Promotions on a Dime,” and “How to Use Facebook to Market Your Business.” These breakfast sessions are held each of the three days.

Celebrity appearances created a big draw for “Wanna Play Day.” Former New York Yankee turned Jazz guitarist Bernie Williams was promoting his new book Rhythms of the Game, and taking time to speak and play for the public. His 2009 full-length album Moving Forward is his second and features collaborations with Bruce Springsteen and Dave Koz. “I’m really working with NAMM advocating for music and arts education in schools,” says Williams. This visit to Nashville was his “first time here, but hopefully won’t be the last.” Williams has been a celebrity face for the convention since January’s NAMM Show in Anaheim. His book features a foreword by musician Paul Simon and discusses the link between musical and athletic performance. “I think there’s a lot of similarities between music and baseball, and it’s worth reading. The book is out now, and I think it’s going to be very successful.”

Gibson's Firebird X. Photo: Daniel Ethan Podolsky

This year’s show contained a bit of a break from traditional NAMM procedures. On the final day of the convention, doors were opened to the public for “Wanna Play Music Day.” For a $20 ticket price, casual fans and music buffs alike can see the exhibits and attend valuable lessons such as “Setting Up a Home Studio,” and “Garage Band Hands-On Test Drive.”

“I’m glad they’re doing a public day,” remarked Frank Johns, head of R&D for Gibson Guitars, a Nashville-based company. “It’s one thing to have dealers come and check everything out… but it’s also great to have the public come and check everything out.” Gibson is at NAMM promoting it’s newest Firebird X computerized “robot” guitar. The guitar features technological innovations such as robotic tuners, Bluetooth to communicate with effects pedals, onboard effects, and more. “It’s our first foray into this technology, but we really feel at Gibson that it’s the way of the future,” explains Johns. “It’s the technology to keep up with the latest iPads and that sort of thing.”

With a very unique exhibit, Quaver’s Marvelous World of Music is pioneering another approach to music education, demonstrating a “new music program designed to bring added excitement to the way music is taught to children.” Graham Hepburn, known in the video series as Quaver, is very enthusiastic about getting children to learn about music. When “I was a [music] teacher, I could never find any good DVD resources that weren’t too long or too boring,” explains Hepburn. Quaver’s offers a DVD series containing 30 different episodes. “Each episode is 15 minutes long, so they don’t take over music classes or private lessons. They talk about beat, rhythm, duration, pitch, music theory, there’s music styles, ensembles, musical periods,” he says. “Each episode is really funky, fast moving, there’s animation, there’s live action.” Over 500 kids from the Nashville area get involved in the project, which is based on Music Row. The project also contains an online virtual world for kids to create and compose music. “We hope it’s going to become a worldwide success,” says Hepburn, “if it isn’t, I’ll have to become a window cleaner again.”

Quaver’s Marvelous World of Music. Photo: Daniel Ethan Podolsky

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