Namm, or National Association of Music Merchants, is an USA-based entity which congregates all sorts of music related manufacturers: instruments, amplifiers, cables, cases, accessories, professional gear and so on.
The NAMM show can mean multiple things, but the most common association is with Winter NAMM, a trade show held annually in January at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA, United States of America.
This guide is exclusively oriented towards those who want to attend winter NAMM. For more information on the entity itself please visit the Namm website
This guide is not aimed at covering a particular show although it has been penned following a visit to the 2019 Winter NAMM. The information is therefore fairly recent. It is also not meant to be a coverage of all new releases presented at the show. It is directed at those who want to attend future editions of the event. If you want to check out the new releases from a particular edition just type NAMM [year] on youtube and you will find a plethora of videos about the show.
Getting a badge
With attendance over 120K people and lots of famous names in the roster – many famous musicians play at their sponsor’s booths – tickets and badges are well controlled by the organization. You must register in advance as there is no on-site sale of tickets. You won’t even get near the premises if you haven’t registered for a badge in advance. Generally, the badges have two categories:
- NAMM members: most manufacturers and distributors of audio gear are members and get a number of free badges for their teams attending. They can also get some guest badges for a few selected friends so if you know someone in the industry there is a possible way in. You may have to pay (USD 100 for the 2019 show) if it’s past a certain deadline. Of course, these members will also invite all artists who will perform at their booths. It’s pretty common to see famous musicians walking around with a badge showing their name and some gear maker who invited them.
- Non NAMM members: the badges are normally sold (USD 150 for the 2019 show) and the sales commence after the main member allocation has been distributed. You can register at the Namm website to get alerts once sales begin. The non member sale is restricted to organisations such as media, prospective members, or distributors who want to trade at the show. In other words you need a small business related to one of those things in the audio business to attend.
Once your registration has been accepted you will receive an email with a barcode, which can then be used at the will call booths outside the event to retrieve the actual badge for the show. The event starts on a Thursday and it’s pretty full. To avoid queues you can head down to Anaheim as early as Monday and retrieve your badge in advance.
Getting there and where to stay
Punters normally fly in to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Anaheim is around 50 to 60 km from central Los Angeles, and the road system is pretty good. There are many freeways connecting both and the ride should take around 45 min each way. If you don’t feel like driving every day, plan in advance. The hotel infrastructure is good but nowhere near as extensive as Las Vegas (where popular shows such as CES and NAB are held). They will get full and very expensive as it gets closer to the event. There are a stack of mid-priced hotels around Katella avenue, at walking distance.
For those with a deeper wallet and a desire to rub shoulders with the stars, more expensive options like Hilton and Marriot are just across the road from the Anaheim Convention Center. In fact, these two hotels hold some additional booths and some informative sessions and parallel events such as AES@Namm.
At the fringe of the region you may find Motel 6 or Travelodge and similar options for those travelling on a budget.
If you decide to stay elsewhere and drive in, avoid the parking lots near the Convention Center. They are expensive and get full quite quickly. I suspect many VIPs have badges that allow them to park there. Good options for mortals are the Angel Stadium car park (home of California Angels baseball team) and the Toy Story car park (at Disneyland, just north of the convention center). These options may vary from year to year, but are published at the Namm show site in advance, including operating hours and dates. Parking at the Angel stadium cost me USD 14 each day with free shuttle bus to the show.
At the end of the show (around 6pm) the shuttle bus line can get pretty busy. One option is to try and catch a live concert – many musicians take the opportunity to book concerts at nearby venues during NAMM. Another option is to weasel into a mixer party and do some networking. If all else fails you can still head down Katella avenue and grab some dinner; normally at 7.30pm the shuttle bus line is way better.
Planning your show
Maps are available online in advance, but the best bet is their app. It has the show schedule, exhibitor directory, notifications during the show and even a networking section. Highly recommended. The exhibits span across:
- The main hall sectors A to D, with sector E one level below D
- The north hall, with two levels
- Two strips of rooms on top of the main hall, with a skybridge to the north hall
- The Hilton convention center just across the road
You will need to decide in advance which personas will be attending and what are the main objectives of each one: business, information, or stargazing. Be careful as it’s easy to get lost in the fanboy or stargazing mode. Basically heaps of famous musicians attend the show and their appearances are published in the NAMM app schedule, Instagram or Twitter. Sometimes they are just random. If that is your only goal you may end up spending 4 days chasing rock stars.
For business, remember that is a trade show and they have strict restrictions against pitching or trying to sell some product or service to the members during the show. Exhibitors are generally very approachable as long as you make clear that the main goal is to establish connection and explore future options later.
Of course if your business is to buy instead of sell then that is exactly what the show is for. Many vendors even have closed sessions specifically dedicated to buyers. You may have to book in advance so it pays to map this well and head down to the target booths on day 1 if you have not established contact before the show.
Finally, information about new gear is abundant. Many large vendors launch products at the show so you will see plenty of new gear, guitars, drums, amplifiers, gadgets, accessories, apps, plugins and such being launched and demonstrated at the show.
The attendance is a mixed bag. You will see plenty of rock stars or aspiring rock stars, managers, business people, music fans and in particular for this day and age, vloggers walking around with their cameras, gimbals and microphones. Shooting videos and taking pictures with your phone at the booths is generally ok, but if you rock up with professional gear you may need a media pass – be sure to check the app for further information.
Foods and drinks are distributed everywhere, from snack bars to food trucks to restaurants. Easy to just stop for a snack or get a drink as you head from one sector to the other.
The cool factors
It is a very cool show to attend. No I’m not talking about the fact that in January it is winter in California – that is pretty mild compared with winter in other regions. It’s the fact that the show has a massive impact in the music industry for the year, lots of rock starts attending, lots of cool instruments to check out and play, and a reasonable amount of stickers and other ‘swag’ you can bring home with you.
There are lots of opportunities to meet new people, and it’s cool to hang out at the main hall or the adjacent external areas. These external areas have music concerts basically throughout the whole show. The event would be worth it for the music value alone I think. As mentioned before, lots of cool concerts take place at night at the adjacent venues, such as the House of Blues or the concert halls at the Hilton or the Marriot. Some are very restricted so watch out for breadcrumbs announced via social media.
As a bonus Disneyland is just across the boulevard north of the convention centre, so you might as well come with the whole family and spend a few extra days in the region.
It is a worthwhile event for music lovers and members of the music industry, but it requires planning in advance and some sort of strategy. It is physically impossible to visit all the booths and see all presentations in four days. You have to plan and get your priorities in order so you can make the best of it.
It’s also worth considering a buffer day where you just relax, enjoy and walk around at random. It is not a music festival; full concerts happen only outside the show or in the open areas. Inside the show you may catch shredders demonstrating the latest gear by playing pieces of their music or someone else’s music. Their objective is to help their sponsor sell the gear, not stick to a plan or a setlist. So random things like forgetting to plug a cable or being told by loudness police that there are too loud are quite common.
My biggest take home, apart from the business contacts, was to see that rock stars have a noticeable human side and have to abide by some business rules in order to remain relevant. They will walk around from booth to booth to help their sponsors no matter how famous they are. In the end, normal human beings going about their businesses. But with remarkable musicianship to boot.
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