Upfront Q&A

Apparently someone thought Larry Morton wasn’t busy enough.  His day job as president of Hal Leonard has kept his head, hands, and heart busy as the company expands into new directions and forges new partnerships (including distributing decidedly non-print items like Line 6 products). Now, in addition to all that, he takes over as NAMM chairman. It wasn’t easy, but I got Morton to sit down for a few minutes to talk about what he thinks about the evolution of the organization, the challenges that need to be faced, the hard choices that lie ahead, and what he’s going to do to try to make the organization better.

MMR: For the uninitiated or those predisposed to presumption, tell us, what exactly are the responsibilities of the NAMM chairman?

Larry Morton: The chairman role has important functions within the NAMM organization and among the wider music industry. On an internal level, the chairman leads the executive committee and the board of directors as part of the oversight and guidance that NAMM members require of their non-profit organization. This means working closely with NAMM CEO Joe Lamond and his team to ensure that NAMM’s programs and services are on track.

On a broader level, the NAMM chairman plays a key ambassador role to promote NAMM’s mission of creating more music makers and supporting the importance of music in our society. This involves giving presentations domestically and internationally, meeting with NAMM members and key industry partners, and attending many industry shows, events, and functions.


MMR: What is your history with NAMM?

LM: I originally served on the NAMM Board from 1998-2000, and then later was elected to the executive committee as secretary, starting in 2007. So, that’s a lot of years in being involved and gaining an understanding of how to work within a volunteer-driven board. Joe Lamond leads an incredible group of talented NAMM directors and it’s an honor to support them and help them in their important mission.


MMR: How has the NAMM Board changed in your years of involvement?

LM: I’ve been in the music industry for 29 years, so I’ve witnessed the long-term evolution of NAMM, both the organization and the board. We’ve seen it change from a “just a trade show” perception to a far-reaching, high-level market-building organization.

Many NAMM members now contact the NAMM organization for support and resources, which is both a huge compliment and a huge challenge.

I have seen an amazing transformation of the board over the years. It is now a fully balanced and comprehensive group of both retailers and suppliers, representing all segments of the industry. We’ve seen suppliers have an equal voice and equal vote. We’ve seen great international representation on the board. We’ve seen women getting better representation, culminating in Robin Walenta of West Music, now serving as treasurer, who will become our first female chairwoman of NAMM. That’s exciting!

I would also add that NAMM is more transparent than ever before and that is a direct result of guidance and leadership from the board over the years.


MMR: By your own admission, you’ve got big shoes to fill taking over from former chairman Kevin Cranley.

LM: Kevin [of Willis Music] did a phenomenal job as NAMM chairman. He brought many things to the role, including great leadership, careful and thoughtful guidance, a passionate belief in music, broad-based experience as a music retailer – I could go on and on!

But perhaps his biggest contribution is the unwavering integrity he brought to the role. Kevin always wanted to do the right thing, no matter how difficult, with no ego or personal agenda. I’ll definitely do my best to follow his example.


MMR: So what are Larry Morton’s goals?

LM: With help from the NAMM board and a strategic planning committee, NAMM recently did a complete overhaul of its Vision, Mission, and Objectives (VMO). This allowed the organization to define its priorities and help narrow the focus to those programs and services that matter the most to our members and to the industry.

One of my goals is to work with the NAMM staff to take this to the next level in its implementation. We need to apply our significant resources in the areas that can have the biggest impact on creating music makers. Another goal I have is to help NAMM define what exactly a “music maker” is and what the products are that today’s musicians are using to create music. With technology, the internet, apps, tablets, and other mobile devices, the whole set of tools that musicians are using has changed. As a result, new companies are creating new types of products, and those companies need to be brought into the NAMM circle.

MMR: What do you think a couple of the biggest challenges are going to be?

There will always be challenges, so I’m sure we’ll have a few more in the next few years. Presently, NAMM is still dealing with an unresolved class-action lawsuit that we hope will get dismissed and off our plate. The economy is still difficult, especially for independent music retailers, so NAMM has to continue to find ways to help those members.

On a macro level, NAMM will continue to look for areas where it can do the most good. Sometimes that might be doing less of some older programs, in order to do more of newer programs.


MMR: We’ve heard from some dealers that NAMM isn’t always as responsive/supportive as it should be. Fair?

LM: NAMM is deeply committed to serving its members. The annual survey of NAMM members illustrates how incredibly responsive and helpful NAMM staff is to the members. The positive ratings are off the chart, amazingly good. Naturally, it is simply not possible to say “yes” to every single request that comes along. The NAMM organization is really great at “yes” and tries not to say “no.” If there is a request that is outside NAMM’s domain, or not possible for NAMM to do, the staff does its best to refer members to other resources where they can get more information or services.


MMR: Where do you hope NAMM will be at the end of your term?

LM: At the end of the day, all of us who volunteer, elected board members – chairman included – are the “stewards” of NAMM. Our members have entrusted us to provide careful and thoughtful guidance to the organization. We have to be good listeners and help guide the organization forward. My hope for the end of my two-year term as chairman is that I can leave NAMM in an even better place than when I was elected. I hope to help NAMM grow and gain in its ability to support music.

My dad always used to say “leave a little more wood on the pile” when you are done. That’s my goal as well.

MMR: Well, we’re rooting for your success.

LM: Thank you. I must add that I am extremely humbled and honored to become NAMM chairman. I attended my first NAMM show in 1985 and I still vividly recall the excitement I felt walking onto the show floor. It is still that exciting to me today. The very idea that a lifetime musician and long term music industry guy like me would be given this opportunity speaks to the amazing business we are all lucky enough to be part of. I take great motivation from the long line of past chairs and presidents of NAMM who paved the trail before me. 

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