Electronic Musician, Drummer, Sound Designer and Technologist
Winter NAMM ’10 – after thoughts
Categories: music, reviews, Work

Late, late afterthoughts, I know.

I went out to Anaheim, CA to check out winter NAMM on January 14th.  The show was well attended, with thousands of people, as per usual. I went out with the guys from Five12 software, as well as my good friend, Jason Wolf. We arrived on thursday and set up shop in our hotel room just across the street from the Anaheim convention center.

Walking into the packed center (thousands of people were in attendance, after all), I found that many of the usual suspects were exhibiting, such as Ableton, MOTU, and Korg.  Some, however, were sadly absent,  most notably Native Instruments, as well as some companies I know well, such as Audiocubes, and no editors from Computer Music Magazine.  I suspect that much of this was the cost of setting up at the event; it’s a huge, huge expense, and one that more and more companies are finding is not something they can work into their budget.

Another interesting happening was Avid’s almost total lack of a booth; their exhibition space literally was a chunk of floor, a single Avid sign marking it.  One display case showed off some Avid products, such as the Eleven Rack and Digidesign Mbox – but no more than that.  It was truly sad, actually; the booth felt lifeless, with no excitement about new products, or showing off the current products offered by Avid.  It’s unclear how Avid is planning on marketing themselves outside of their new slogan – “We’re Avid”.

One surprising exhibitor was  Teenage Engineering, showing off their OP-1 modular hardware synthesizer, which featured an FM radio scanner with the ability to sample FM radio signals and use the sampled sound as an Oscillator:

I was impressed by the hardware, but I don’t think that the $800 suggested price point will get me to buy one.  One cleaver feature on the synth was shown by pressing a key, which then displayed info about the hardware, with PRICE: proudly displayed.  Turning a knob made the price go up or down – showing that T.E. doesn’t yet have a total cost set in stone.

Of course, there was goodness by Access with the Virus TI:

Some lovely analog synths by Surfin’ Kangaroo:

Guitar Stomp boxes:

And one piece of gear I really looked forward to seeing, but was sadly very let down by; the Roland AX-synth Keytar:

I had high hopes for this piece of gear, but it was one of the cheapest feeling keyboards I’ve ever held.  Being made by Roland, I’d expect a sound brain capable of some serious sonic power – unfortunately, the sounds were like that of a cheap Casio.  “Trumpet”, “Guitar”, and “Piano” were amongst the sound choices, which resulted in horrible, super simple sounds that I couldn’t see anyone ever wanting to use.  Of course, you could route this into a synth of your own, but with a $1500 price tag, I can’t understand or justify buying this thing.  C’mon Roland, I expected better.  The only good feature found on this synth is a d-beam, and that’s not saying much.

I also attended a number of NAMM parties, including “Wham, Bam, Thank you NAMM” at the Downtown Independent movie theater in LA, which was quite the throwdown; sets from Henry Strange, Moldover, and the ever-cool Trifonic and the IDM man-beast Richard Devine, along with softaware demos (by yours truly of Five12′s Numerology software) and lots more goodness.

On Saturday night I attended Ableton’s VIP party.  Ableton, having announced “The Bridge” – a new way for software to talk to Ableton, along with their partnership with Serato DJ software, took over a tiny LA bar and turned it into Ableton HQ.   I’m a big fan of Ableton, so this was a real honor to attend.  I think we ended up in the super-VIP area at some point, because Velvet ropes surrounded us, Serato and Ableton team members sat with us, and no one kicked us out :)

And, of course, there were the late night sessions in the Hotel room with Five12′s Numerology, four macs, and a ton of gear thanks to my pal Jason Wolf, Jim Coker (Five12′s main man), and Geoff White:

I also had the chance to meet the Soundcloud team, which was very cool; got to pick their brains about future software integration, having just heard that the Presonus Studio One software now supports Export to Soundcloud.  Always loving what these guys do.

I saw some new hardware by Steinberg, the CI2 studio controller:

And a slew of drums, of course.  Pearl released an analog drum kit with electronic drum kit capability, which could prove quite useful for many drummers.

I also got to see Richard Devine throw down some demo sets at the Toontrack Booth:

So yeah, I was quite busy :)   I was liveblogging/tweeting/live video feeding a lot of this from my G1 phone, which kept me quite busy.

I made my way home with Jason late sunday night, and was glad to see my own bed.

The big winner at this NAMM, as far as I’m concerned, was Analog Synthesis; it seems to be making a real comeback. Lots of super-wirey synths were all around, squelchy noises abound, and plenty of geekery to be had.




Overall, NAMM was enjoyable as always.  However, I have to question how viable NAMM will be, over time; it’s a great place to network, but it rarely equals any deals for independents in the music industry.  Many developers and companies don’t see much from NAMM, simply because their audience isn’t there.  Their audience is out in bars, clubs, home studios, garages, and bedrooms, making music.  That’s where many companies need to focus, and I think that we’re going to see a turn in this direction over time.  Many companies are dropping out of NAMM, and as time goes on, you may see less and less of the big names setting up their booths at the big show.

However, this could lead to a renaissance in the show; smaller companies and developers might find their way into the show more easily (Teenage Engineering is an example of this – a new, first year company, getting onto the main floor in their first show? Quite impressive), and therefore, new growth in the direction of grassroots music industry sales and business.

The question of how Viable NAMM is will remain to be answered, but for now, it can still be said that if you want to know what’s going on in the music instruments and music industry, check out NAMM.


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