Last Word

It’s July, it’s insanely hot, Lower Broadway in Nashville is teeming with crowds in town for the Summer NAMM Show, and all is (reasonably) right with the world. At least, that’s what we think people will be saying later this month, at the 2014 Summer NAMM Show.

After dissatisfaction with the show spurred a peregrination that took the summer show from Indianapolis in 2006 and to Austin in 2007, NAMM came back to Nashville in 2008, though concerns weren’t really much abated. But it was also returning to Music City at the leading edge of what would turn out to be the worst economic recession in three-quarters of a century, at a time when recorded music sales had been plummeting for the better part of the decade, and MI sales themselves had been slipping – in 2009, they dropped over 17 percent according to NAMM’s stats, the first double-digit drop since 1995 – a perfect storm that even a shot of Jack Daniels straight down at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge couldn’t provide relief from.

Summer NAMM returns to Nashville this year for the second time in a row at the new Music City Center convention center. True, the new venue’s massiveness tends to throw the show’s already relatively small size – about a quarter that of the main show in Anaheim – into unflattering relief. But Summer NAMM may also be at its fighting weight, aptly scaled for the small and mid-sized independent retailers that have been its target demographic for years. As disposable income once again rises, so has both wholesale and retail MI purchasing, up 1.7 percent as an annualized rate over the last five years, according to IBISWorld’s market research. After the finance and real estate meltdowns of the last six years, any figure without a negative sign in front of it is good news.

The New Nashville

Summer NAMM and Nashville itself seem to be on a parallel course of sorts. The city has been expanding, reveling in the “It” city sobriquet bestowed on it by urban tastemakers and the mainstream media. While music actually accounts for a pretty small slice of Nashville’s $82 billion gross MSA product (as per Forbes) and nowhere near the $20 billion of that the healthcare industry generates there, that same music product is doing very well perceptually: Country sales are up over the five years through 2012, with a bit of a downturn last year, but with several very high-profile artists helping buoy the marquee, including Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, and Luke Bryan. And literally weeks before Summer NAMM’s return, its broadcast avatar, the ABC prime-time soap “Nashville” got its renewal from the network. (Almost as serpentine as the show’s often-sketchy plots was the back-channel back-and-forth between the show’s producers and a consortium of the city, the state’s film & video commission, and Opryland parent Gaylord Entertainment, which had been subsidizing the program and which, after threats to move production from Nashville to either Texas or Louisiana, ultimately anted up $8 million to keep the show in town.)

Summer NAMM attendees also come to Nashville to find that in the space of just a few years, its culinary landscape has been transformed from that of a meat-and-three wasteland to that of a legitimate food destination, with USA Today and The New York Times offering readers guided tours through the city’s increasingly dense thicket of actually good restaurants. Then there’s the urban renewal angle – areas such as the once-aptly named Gulch have become mini-Manhattans of towering glass condos overlooking hip clubs and hipster clothing stores (including Tom Bedell’s Two Old Hippies store on 12th Avenue South).

Nashville & NAMM: Together Again

Then there’s the music itself in Music City. Country has become a hot format, regularly crossing over to the pop charts. In the process, country uses a lot more of the spectrum of what MI comprises. It’s not just a Strat and Twin Reverb proposition anymore. The nests of pedalboards in front of guitarists on stage at the CMA Fest shows in early June looked as imposing as those at any rock show. Country is embracing more of MI’s technology as its sound becomes broader. And Nashville is possibly the densest pro audio city in the world – it always had more recording studios per capita than anywhere else, but it certainly has more personal and project studios on that basis than even Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (However, the cancellation of the AES-sponsored 2014 Nashville Recording Workshop & Expo, scheduled to run concurrent with Summer NAMM, was a disappointment.) Nashville’s music industry is a huge consumer of recording equipment and its local MI retail establishments see a brisk trade in pro audio gear.

There’s no reason that Summer NAMM can’t use some of the city’s recent mojo to refurbish its own presence there. The second-biggest musical instrument show in the country taking place in the capital of live and recorded music is simply synergy waiting to happen. Again.

Dan Daley is a veteran pro audio writer and journalist, as well as the author of several books. He is a recovering musician, but enjoys occasional relapses.  

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