The endless aisles of handshakes and smiles that wound through the salesmanship and sonic spectacle that was the 2013 Winter NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Show was literally abuzz with energy and vigor. I lead with this sentiment, because it was not only this pervasive tone that ran through literally every booth on every floor that was so striking; vendors, buyers, and attendees alike all seemed to be standing taller, more square-shouldered, and just plain… friendlier. If there was ever a microcosmic representation of how the world’s economic troubles can and should be addressed, it was on full display here at the Anaheim Convention Center. Sleeves were rolled up and the hard work of pulling ourselves up by those proverbial bootstraps was well underway. Everyone seemed to be cooperatively pulling the same direction and the message was clearly that not only do we all need each other, but we can all help each other as well.
Exemplifying this drive for economic empowerment was the NAMM Learning Lounge. With its Retail Boot Camp marketing sessions taking place before the show even started and its NAMM U Breakfast Sessions discussing growing one’s business. Additionally, the NAMM U Idea Center Sessions provided tips, techniques, and strategies from industry experts and several other presentations all seemed well-attended and appreciated. It was an innovative concept in cooperative marketing I’m sure will become a NAMM show staple in future years.
The weeks leading up to the show carry with them a bevy of press releases, most of those announcing new products and technologies. I usually select the one I find most intriguing and start there. This year, I made a beeline for the booth of Antiquity Music (www.antiquitymusic.com) and its amazing Wheelharp (pictured). With its handsomely Victorian good looks and apparent steampunk ethos, the Wheelharp features a pedal-actuated motor that spins a wheel covered with a bow-like material. Players then depress the piano-like keys (in either radial or liner-style configurations), bringing the wheel into contact with a corresponding violin or cello-type string. The result is an engaging, if quirky approximation of a small string ensemble like you’ve never heard! I would love to see what Patrick Warren (Michael Penn, Fiona Apple) would do with this thing. So very cool…
At the other end of the technological food-chain were innovations that bring musical productivity to your smart phones and other personal devices. Spearheading the trend for the past few years has been IK Multimedia (www.ikmultimedia.com), with its iRig HD high-quality digital guitar interface, iRig BlueBoard bluetooth MIDI pedalboard and iRig KEYS universal keyboard controller, all for iPhone/iPod touch/iPad and Mac/PC. These interfaces control a variety of music apps that turn your portable device into a tiny powerhouse: AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix gives you convincing Hendrix tones on your iPhone for instance, while iGrand Piano provides beautiful concert sound at a fraction of the weight! They also introduced the iLoud Portable Personal Studio Monitor, so you can enjoy the great fidelity of these sounds without the need to be at home or in the studio. Both the iLoud and the iLoud Mini pack a powerful amount of punch into such a small footprint, so you can be sure that lack of volume won’t be an issue.
If you’re looking for something new, PreSonus (www.presonus.com) never disappoints. It introduced several new products, including the StudioLive 32.4.2AI 32-channel mixer, StudioLive AI 3-way Active PA Systems, Sceptre series CoActual Studio Monitors (designed by speaker guru Dave Gunness) and the Eris series hi-definition studio monitors… in other words, a truckload of new tools for audio pros and home recordists alike. The “AI” included in several product names refers to PreSonus’ Active Integration technology, featuring (in the company’s own words) “Products that sense each other, interact, and work together wirelessly, with 32-bit floating-point DSP and seamlessly integrated software, and run on CPUs far more powerful than competitors’ current audio products.” This expansion into new fields, along with some future upgradability to Dante and Thunderbolt technologies, promising to make “audio life” even easier and more productive!
Local heroes Taylor Guitars (www.taylorguitars.com) hosted a veritable cornucopia of talented performers, including Allen Stone, Doobie Brother Pat Simmons, The Farm, Raining Jane, and Miyavi, with just enough time in between to introduce a beautiful Koa Edition to their venerable 200 Series Acoustic Guitars. Founder Bob Taylor also took time out to receive the Music and Sound Retailer’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Congratulations, Bob!
Virtual instruments and effects is another rapidly growing field and two standouts that will be featured in these pages soon are the MAGMA Virtual FX Rack (65 plug-ins at one incredibly low price!) from Nomad Factory (www.ilio.com/downloads/ nomadfactory-plugins) and Spectral Layers from SONY Creative Software (www.sonycreativesoftware.com). In concept, Spectral Layers can identify different elements in an already mixed file and move them to their own layer for editing… that’s right, like PhotoShop for audio! Oh, the possibilities…
As I intimated at the beginning, even those companies without new products were still displaying a new resolve, as well as a more inclusive and transparent attitude that I personally feel can only lift their “game” and their company’s standing in the audio marketplace that much higher. Reach for those shades… because the future looks bright, indeed.
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer, and songwriter. (www.kaspro.com)