It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a NAMM Show, though throughout that time I’ve consistently attended annual AES Conventions. What I (and other attendees) have noticed is that while the NAMM Show has steadily grown, AES shows have been steadily shrinking. It used to take two or three full days to really dig in and get through the floor at an AES show, but I can now do that in a day or two. Some major manufacturers have been conspicuously absent from recent AES Conventions, a fact that I find disheartening.

When I stepped into the North Hall of the Anaheim Convention Center last week where a large portion of the pro audio manufacturers were exhibiting, I felt like I went through a space-time continuum. Many of the manufacturers who have mysteriously disappeared from recent AES Conventions were conspicuously present at 2019 NAMM. Why is that? It’s certainly not because they don’t like the AES. I think it’s because they feel their resources would be more wisely spent targeting a wider audience—the audience that attends a NAMM Show.

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As traditional studio hardware such as mixing consoles, multitrack recorders, outboard processors and synthesizers has continued moving “into the box,” the consumer demographic of those tools has drastically changed because of the affordability. Serious audio tools no longer cost tens of thousands of dollars and require a full-time tech for maintenance. In fact, some might say that a broader range of those products are being designed for audio amateurs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as many of these amateurs will become the next generation of successful pro musicians, engineers and producers. Everyone needs to start somewhere.

One of the reasons that musicians and songwriters attend a NAMM Show is that they’re looking for tools to fuel their imagination, and manufacturers are more than willing to supply that need. Take a look at the announcements from Native Instruments, one of which was the Komplete Start suite of 15 software instruments, available free of charge. It’s an investment in the future of the industry.

Ideas like that draw in younger musicians and aspiring producers to participate in making music, the result of which in the long run is that the audio industry thrives as much as the MI sector. Those folks will move from the entry-level up to the mid-level. They’ll upgrade their interfaces, and they’ll purchase plug-ins, microphones and studio monitors. Some of them will move up to pro-level DAWs, full-featured virtual instruments, build studios, and hopefully learn to record acoustic instruments. Others will need tour support. Some may even become audio geeks and venture into analog tape(!).

You may have bumped into more than just a few friends at the 2019 NAMM Show. You may have met someone who’s on their way to creating a hit record and winning a GRAMMY for it.