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NAMM’s Joe Lamond: ‘Advancing Music Education is the Right Thing to Do’

Christian Wissmuller • AwardsDon Johnson AwardsJanuary 2020 • January 13, 2020

In many ways he’s the face of the MI industry – and, ever-smiling, Joe Lamond’s is a face nearly all of us see at each NAMM Show and many other industry gatherings. At the helm of the National Association of Music Merchants as president and CEO since 2001, Lamond has overseen a period of unprecedented growth for the industry organization while also expanding efforts to advocate for music education for all on a national level (and beyond).

Since 2009, MMR has commemorated the life and legacy of our former editor with the Don Johnson Industry Service Award – an honor bestowed upon those within MI who think beyond units sold and revenues earned, using their energies to better their communities and to help ensure that the culture of music and benefits of music-making are available to everyone.

Few, if any, fit the above description more completely than Joe Lamond.

You likely already know quite a bit about him and his accomplishments, but read on – you may learn a thing or two! Joe’s path has been a unique and fascinating one…

Let’s start right at the beginning: What were your first exposures to music? Did you take lessons as a child and, if so, on what instruments? What artists, songs, shows, et cetera were pivotal in shaping your appreciation of music?

Our house was always filled with music. My parents encouraged us all to play an instrument and my older brother played guitar and bass in our neighborhood garage bands. I was lucky enough to tag along and play drums with all his cool, older friends. This started in grade school and continued as my brother went away to college. I have blurry but fond memories of that period; while my peers were doing typical high school stuff on the weekends I was playing some pretty outrageous fraternity parties at Hobart College in upstate New York.

As a sort of parallel narrative, you were involved with both professional music-making and MI retail for a time. Can you talk about how you came to be involved with the latter and how your career progressed along that path?

I moved from where I grew up in New York to California when I was 21 – fresh out of school and ready for rock stardom. I quickly started gigging with local bands in Northern California, living the musical life I had dreamed of. Having a day job also seemed quite practical for ensuring things like food and shelter. I have a distinct memory of walking into Drum and Guitar City shortly after arriving in Sacramento and asking this red-haired kid at the counter, “How does someone get a job around here?” He pointed to the back office where the owner was coincidentally getting ready to make a manager change. I was hired on the spot as a bookkeeper, becoming the store manager shortly after that.

Interestingly, the “kid” at the counter continues to be one of my closest friends, Scott Cameron who has been with Drum Workshop for quite some time now. Fun fact: Scott and I attended our first NAMM Show in January 1983. Andy and Diane Pennisi, the owners of Drum and Guitar City were generous enough to send us to the NAMM Show as a reward for a profitable holiday selling season that year. I could have never dreamed at the time that one day I would be responsible for “leading the team” in producing the industry’s annual family reunion!

Can you talk a little bit about your experiences as a performing and recording musician? You’ve crossed paths with and/or played with at least a couple names folks will be familiar with.

It is a long and pretty typical story. Like so many NAMM Members, if one works in this industry in as many roles as I have – retail, recording and touring musician, sound contractor, touring professional, et cetera – you eventually end up working with so many great people.

One of my favorite memories was from the period when I was juggling a series of incredible opportunities all at the same time. I was production manager for an artist named Todd Rundgren who was touring quite regularly while I also had an amazing opportunity to work with Skip Maggiora just as Skip’s Music was undergoing a big growth period. I was also playing a lot of drums, including tours with San Francisco artist Tommy Tutone (“867-5309” fame!). I think there is a little hyperactivity in every creative person in our industry and the variety of projects during that era was really energizing.

You joined NAMM in the late ‘90s in a marketing capacity. How did that transition come about and what were some of your early duties with the organization? Had you grown tired of working directly in MI retail? Do you miss that aspect of the industry?

In the early to mid-‘90s, Skip’s Music had pioneered a program for adult musicians called “Weekend Warriors.” NAMM was aware of the program, and also sensed the growing opportunity to get lapsed baby boomers back playing again.

Around 1996 we (Skip’s and NAMM) came together to launch the Weekend Warriors program for all NAMM members to use. During this process I had (and very much enjoyed) the opportunity to work with NAMM’s CEO Larry Linkin and Market Development director Bob Morrison. In the summer of 1998, Bob was recruited to start VH-1’s Save the Music program and reached out to me to see if I would be interested in doing what I was doing at Skip’s, only on a broader scale. While I was very happy in MI retail and my young family was settled, I just could not let what I felt was the opportunity of a lifetime pass me by.

Probably the biggest influence in me taking on the role however was my respect for Karl Bruhn, who become NAMM’s first director of Market Development after a very successful career at Yamaha, virtually creating the association’s vision for industry growth.

I called him up and we had a long talk about the opportunity, he said he would help me in any way possible – a promise I held him to! It was decided that I would not move right away, but rather remain in Northern California. So, for the next few years, I would wake up every Monday morning at around 3a.m., drive to the Sacramento airport and fly down to the NAMM Headquarters in San Diego and begin the work that eventually led me to being selected to take on the CEO role when Link retired in May of 2001. My family and I eventually relocated to San Diego in 2002.

NAMM’s involvement with music education efforts really ramped up upon your appointment as president and CEO. One of my first NAMM Show memories was the “NAMM Concert Honoring Sir Elton John,” which wound up raising nearly $350,000 for music education in your second year at the helm. While there are obviously many moving parts and players involved – including your fellow Don Johnson Industry Service Award-winner, Mary Luehrsen – can your share your own thoughts on music education advocacy? Why is music so important to you, personally?

Thanks to the efforts of many who came before us, I was lucky enough to have music in my school growing up. Seeing firsthand the positive impact this had on me and my friends and then later being involved with the education programs at Skip’s like “Stai way to Stardom” convinced me of the importance of ensuring that every young person had the same opportunity. With the help of countless industry friends and supporters, and the financial engine of NAMM’s “Circle of Benefits” business model where trade show revenues are invested back into growing the industry, we have been given the tools and the mandate to change our educational laws to ensure that music and art were taught as core subjects alongside math, science, and reading.

The benefits to our industry of encouraging music education and the creation of more music makers should be pretty self-evident to all, but how would you summarize the positive impact of these things to retailers and vendors who may still – inexplicably – be like, “Yeah, yeah – big deal…” and not grasping the full import?

Such an interesting and important question. We are an industry that benefits from the spending by the state and federal educational system, which in this country is somewhere north of $650 billion dollars annually. Having a seat at that budget table, which gets refilled each and every year is an industry imperative. Creating lifelong music makers has a downstream effect on every category of products including those used in a robust live music and touring industry. This is a global effort but it is clear that the U.S. model is the envy of nearly every country, making our market the largest in the world. But I have to be honest, if this was the only reason for dedicating our life’s energy to music advocacy I’d rather be parking cars. We do this because it is the right thing to do and has changed and will continue to change the lives of millions of young people.

NAMM has grown in so many ways under your stewardship and so many innovative programs, partnerships, and initiatives have been launched. What accomplishments, in particular, stand out to you as achievements of which you are most proud?

Not quite sure of that, but then again, my memory isn’t what it used to be. I was joking with the staff the other day that I couldn’t even recall all the hotel rooms I’d stayed in during the past 30 days! If I’ve accomplished anything, it has been to find the most talented people for every position, ensuring that NAMM was the place they wanted to be and then encouraging and championing their success along the way. And by attracting the best and brightest minds in the industry for the NAMM Board and Executive Committee we have been blessed with a clear and focused definition of the end zone.

Ironically, simply by accomplishing this, I’ve had some of the most memorable experiences, myself. In what other role could a person testify on Capitol Hill with Elmo or play drums with Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap?

Are there any moves or decisions during your tenure with NAMM that, with hindsight, you would have approached differently?

Ahem, the list is pretty long – how much time do you have? I guess the thing that I wish I could do over would be to have more time with my industry friends and peers. Seems like the pace today leaves so little time for the personal side and I have certainly let important relationships wither due to not being attentive enough.

The NAMM Fly-in continues to do amazing work, but even after “pro music education” legislation is passed and even after milestones are reached, it seems there’s still always an uphill battle. Do you ever see us reaching a point where music education for all is a goal that has been achieved in an enduring manner? Do ever see that “fight” as being truly won and over?

Every two years a new House of Representatives is seated and a third of the Senate is up for re-election. There are new lawmakers coming into powerful positions and committees who need to hear from us. Priorities change, funding comes and goes, but advocating for music in our schools will likely be something that will be important for the industry long after we’re all gone from the scene. As the saying goes in D.C., “You are either at the table or on the menu…”

We are also more involved than ever in fighting for the business issues that are important to our members like taxes, regulations, and health care. For example, the well-intentioned but terribly misleading California Prop 65 has impacted our members from all around the world. We need safe and accurate labeling laws and NAMM, along with many partners, are going to make that happen.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the industry and what are your expectations in 2020?

Our industry tends to be made up of idealists and optimists, otherwise we’d have all pursued more practical and lucrative careers! With that being said, I believe we are on the right track, focusing on music education and growing the services part of the business in live sound, lighting, and entertainment technology.

More music is being made live, in our classrooms, in our houses of worship, on theater stages, and in tours and festivals than in any time in our history. And at the same time, more music is being recorded and used in gaming, TV, and films and in new and emerging technologies like virtual and augmented reality. It’s disrupting the status quo for sure, but how exciting!

Any final thoughts?

It is so meaningful to me to receive this. Don Johnson was a colleague and a friend. We bonded when he and Sid Davis came to Sacramento to do an MMR cover story on Skip’s Music. I also recall a great trip to Montreal when we were launching the Weekend Warriors program up in Canada. It seemed that Don and I were among the few visitors from the U.S., so we spent a lot of time during the MIAC Show discussing life and the industry. And years later, during one of the emotional annual tributes that we have each opening night of the NAMM Show, Don and I stood together watching the names and photos of our industry friends and colleagues that were lost that year. The very next year at the tribute, Don’s photo come up on the screen. I realized how lucky we all were to have known Don and to have had him in our lives. If I have learned anything over the years, it is to never let an opportunity pass to express one’s gratitude for the lifelong friendships we’ve been so fortunate to enjoy in this industry, the rest is all just a bunch of fun and games.

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