NAMM Show to pivot again as world’s biggest annual music instrument and equipment show rebounds from pandemic

For much of its 122-year history, the NAMM Show has served as a vital economic barometer for the creators, manufacturers, distributors and retailers of music instruments and equipment. It has also helped them to navigate unexpected shifts in an industry that saw near-record U.S. earnings of $8.7 billion in 2022.

Over the past several years, however, it has been the NAMM Show itself that has navigated unexpected shifts. Long held at the 1.8 million-square-foot Anaheim Convention Center and in adjacent hotel ballrooms, the music industry’s largest annual trade show has changed course several times during the global pandemic.

“We had our biggest NAMM Show ever in 2020, with more than 115,000 NAMM members attending from more than 120 countries and territories. Then COVID hit and our ongoing four-year journey to get back to normal began,” said Joe Lamond. He is the outgoing president and CEO of Carlsbad-based NAMM — short for National Association of Music Merchants.

As a result of the pandemic, the January 2021 NAMM Show was the first held entirely online as a virtual event. Billed as Believe in Music week, it was also the first NAMM SHOW that was free and open to the public, rather than only to dues-paying NAMM members.

More changes followed.

As a result of the pandemic’s Delta variant surge, the 2022 NAMM Show was pushed back from January 2022 to last June. It was trimmed from four days to three and reduced its footprint in Anaheim by 50 percent.

Exhibitors at the 2022 event were spaced farther apart from each other and on-site rapid antigen and PCR testing and N95 surgical masks were available to attendees. Color-coded badges allowed every attendee to silently indicate the degree of physical contact they were comfortable having.

Some major exhibitors including Gibson, one of the world’s largest guitar manufacturers, bowed out of the truncated 2022 NAMM Show.

Gibson — which appeared to have rebounded after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018 — is also skipping this year’s NAMM Show. In February Gibson Brands was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s over concerns the company might default this summer on more than $500 million in corporate debt.

2023 NAMM Show now underway

Stevie Wonder June 5, 2022, at NAMM Show at the Anaheim Convention Center

Stevie Wonder is a regular visitor to the annual NAMM Show at the Anaheim Convention Center, where he likes to try out the latest new instruments. He is shown on here at the 2022 edition of the NAMM Show.

(Daniel Knighton / Getty Images)

Opting to err on the side of caution this year, Lamond and the not-for-profit music trade organization pushed the 2023 NAMM Show back from January to this week.

It opens today, runs through Sunday, and will feature myriad performances, instrument and equipment demonstrations, panel discussions and educational and business seminars.

“This is another pandemic-scheduled, off-cycle show for us,” said Lamond. He has headed NAMM since 2001 and this morning will interview Rock Hall of Famer John Fogerty at the NAMM Show’s popular Breakfast of Champions event.

“This year will be 20 percent bigger for us than June 2022,” Lamond continued. “But it will by no means be the traditional NAMM Show size. When we get back to January 2024, we’ll be back to to normal size.”

How challenging have the past several years been?

“Well, I didn’t have gray hair before!” said Lamond, whose original plan to step down after the triumphant 2020 NAMM Show was stymied by the pandemic.

“We’ll have 1,200 exhibitors, up from 1,000 last year, and our registrations to attend this year from members outside the U.S. are up 50 percent,” Lamond continued.

“So, this is the first NAMM Show since before COVID where we will get the music world back together in person. And there are some countries whose NAMM members only see each other in person at the NAMM Show.”

Those members include Daniel Neves. He is the São Paulo-based president of the Brazil Music Association, which represents about 130 companies. Neves is also the publisher of the trade magazine Musica & Mercado.

“The NAMM Show is where the whole industry meets itself,” he said, speaking from his São Paulo office last week.

“It’s funny that I talk in person with more of my Brazilian music industry friends at the NAMM Show than here in Brazil. NAMM leads the industry and gets people inspired and excited. It’s easy to meet everybody at NAMM and it is much more than a trade show.”

International gathering

Daniel Neves, left, NAMM CEO and President Joe Lamond.

Daniel Neves, left, the head of the Brazilian Music Association, first attended the annual NAMM Show in Anaheim in 2000 and is back for this week’s edition. He is shown here last year receiving an award from NAMM CEO and President Joe Lamond.

(Courtesy NAMM)

Neves’ sentiments are shared by Yamaha Corp. of America President Tom Sumner.

“The NAMM show is really the international gathering place for people who make, distribute, sell, service or play musical instruments,” Sumner said.

Yamaha will display some of its latest instruments and music-related products across 15,000 square feet at this year’s NAMM Show. The company will launch 39 new products, more than last year but fewer than at the event’s January 2020 edition. It will also host free outdoor concerts for NAMM attendees throughout much of the weekend.

“NAMM is the only remaining major trade event for musical instruments and gear in the world,” Sumner noted. “There was one in Frankfurt (Germany), the Musikmesse, but it didn’t make it out of the pandemic.”

Launched in 1980, the Musikmesse was shuttered by COVID in 2020 and 2021. The event’s organizers announced its demise last year, citing a decline in exhibitors and attendees (the four-day event was open to the public on its two concluding days).

The NAMM Show, conversely, has weathered the ups and downs of the past few years as nimbly as possible in such unpredictable circumstances.

Credit goes to Lamond for his steady leadership — and to soaring consumer demand for musical instruments, which skyrocketed during the pandemic shutdown.

While the concert touring market suffered huge losses in 2020 and 2021, last year saw the concert industry earn a record-setting gross total of $6.28 billion, according to Pollstar’s Year End Top 200 Worldwide Tours chart.

Guitar sales — which increased dramatically during the shutdown — dropped a bit last year. But the demand for acoustic and electric keyboards, pro audio equipment and school band and orchestra instruments increased.

The 2022 U.S. market earnings of $8.7 billion, as reported by 132-year-old magazine The Music Trades, represent a 2.3 percent drop from 2021, which saw a surge in sales during the shutdown. Even so, last year’s earnings are second only to 2021’s record $8.8 billion.

“Overall, the industry is bigger now than it was before the pandemic,” said Yamaha’s Sumner.

“The pandemic gave people in the U.S. time to take up instruments, while the government stimulus checks made it possible for a lot of folks to buy instruments.

“And Joe Lamond has done a fantastic job guiding us all for the past 23 years and making all the pivots during the pandemic. This will be an emotional NAMM Show.”

Lamond’s successor, John Mlynczak, is the immediate past president of the Technology Institute of Music Educators.

Sumner and Lamond were both on the search committee to replace Lamond and both speak highly of Mlynczak, the former vice president of music education & technology at Hal Leonard, the world’s largest sheet music publisher. He will officially become the organization’s new head on May 1.

“I’ll be CEO for one more NAMM Show and I’ll be involved with our NAMM education programs for the next three years,” Lamond said.

“When I wake up on May 1, I won’t have to go in the office. I’ll probably go on a long motorcycle trip!”

By the numbers

NAMM won’t release its complete 2022 global sales report until later this year. But it did provide some preliminary U.S. figures for 2022.

  • Total U.S. music instrument and gear sales totaled $8.7 billion.
  • Sales of guitars, both acoustic and electric, saw declines of 4.5 percent (to $1.04 billion) and 7.7 percent ($859.1 million), respectively.
  • Guitar effect pedals sales increased 7.6 percent to $177.5 million and multi-effects processors increased 2.2 percent to $97.1 million. Unit sales of effects pedals decreased 5.1 percent to 1.4 million units. Multi-effect processors units declined 6.1 percent to 185,000 units.
  • The entire professional audio market increased 0.5 percent to $1.48 billion, with all categories reporting increases.
  • Keyboard sales, under the $199 price point, increased 11 percent to $67.1 million. Unit sales increased 3.8 percent to 621,000.
  • Acoustic pianos increased 17.1 percent to $362.6 million. Unit sales increased 17.1 percent, as well.
  • Digital pianos increased 3 percent to $265 million, while units sold decreased 12.9 percent to 203,400 units.
  • The school music market did extremely well. It saw a jump of 13.5 percent in retail sales to $739.3 million and 11.7 percent in units to 800,000.
  • Educational percussion sales for school bands and orchestras increased 12.5 percent in sales to $49.5 million.

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