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A True ‘Collaborative Alliance’

by Dan Daley • in
  • Last Word
• Created: July 10, 2017

I’ve got something Donald Trump may never enjoy: vindication.

I’ve been predicting, and to some extent advocating for, a deeper engagement between NAMM and AES for a number of years. Always complementary in that the art of one side and the craft of the other both focused mainly on making music, music and the production of it have been moving steadily towards each other for the better part of three decades now, ever since personal recording began to challenge and ultimately supplant conventional recording environments. In that time, the recording studio evolved from an expensive and intimidatingly complicated proposition to a free app on a smartphone. During that same time, the Stratocaster continued to get by with just six strings.

You almost couldn’t not see this coming. Certainly not after the TEC Awards moved from the AES Show, where they had been since their founding in 1985, to prime-time Saturday night at the Winter NAMM Show, as of 2011. That switch was the first public acknowledgement of the tectonic shift that had taken place over the preceding two decades. It’s not one that AES’ stalwarts have always wanted to concede.

It didn’t help – or perhaps in retrospect we should say that it did help very much – that AES had undergone a traumatic transformation in leadership that same year, a changing of the guard that saw the previous administration depart under turbulent circumstances, but one that, it must also be said, had also tried to lead the organization through the hardest era the conventional studio business has ever experienced. In more ways than one, AES was ready for a change.

NAMM Was Ready

If the AES new/old guard was still wary of the optics of deeper interactivity with an MI organization five or six years ago, NAMM itself always seemed eager for an alliance. It made sense: the overlap in constituencies had been growing for years. Musicians had become de facto record producers and engineers, thanks to a tsunami of affordable and user-friendly tools and platforms for record production. These can be dated back to digital’s Pleistocene Era, when in 1979 Tascam’s four-track PortaStudio was introduced. The pro audio community of the time eyed home/personal recording as an existential threat, which, as it turned out, it was, as mighty recording-studio empires fell and many of the same skeptics began to cobble together their own personal-professional studios.

All of them – newly empowered musicians and displaced recording professional alike – turned to MI retail as their partners in a new landscape of music production. MI stores opened and expanded pro-audio departments and added expertise. NAMM encouraged its constituency’s connection with music recording using propositions like the “H.O.T. Zone,” the “Hands-On Training” seminars it’s been hosting at the Winter NAMM Show for the past seven years. If the AES camp once considered NAMM a bit of a threat, it now sees it as a partner, with which it can establish the kind of “collaborative alliance” that assures its relevancy into a future for music production that no one really knows will look like.


And that’s the real matter at hand. AES’ mandate may have seemed to be contracting, as the so-called democratization of music production made putative producers and engineers out of anyone with ambition, a pulse and a credit card, but music’s own path forward as a career has also become rockier. As music icon David Byrne wrote in 2014, “…it looks doubtful that musicians will be able to make much of a living from their recordings given the kind of pittance that trickles down from streaming services after record labels and others have taken their pieces of the pie.” Little has occurred since then to suggest he was wrong.

Musicians today not only have to pursue the art and craft of music and song, but have also had to become far more entrepreneurial than they ever had to before (as if booking New Year’s Eves gigs every July wasn’t hard enough) even as they also had to transform themselves into social-media wizards. Add the work of music production onto that and you end up with the dreaded “jack of all trades, master of none” equation. A true collaborative alliance between AES and NAMM will underscore the authentic value of each of their constituencies’ core competencies, and create synergies that help both of them make their way forward into a complicated future for music as a way to make a living.


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