NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) is the big musical instrument industry trade show. Technically it’s held twice a year, but the big show is every January in Anaheim, California.

Anybody and everybody connected with the musical products industry shows and attends NAMM. This includes pianos of all price points, drums, brass and wind instruments, guitar picks, amps, guitars, disco fog machines, makers of fine hand crafted conducting batons and everything, I mean everything in between. It’s a huge show and the Anaheim Convention Center is one of the only convention centers in the country that can hold it.

NAMM is not a consumer show.  Manufacturers display their products and sell them to retailers, who will later sell them to consumers. Therefore it is a wholesale show, not open to the public. Thank god, because it is busy and crazy enough as it is. That being said, there are always professional musicians of all caliber visiting, including an annual visit by Stevie Wonder. Fans line up for autographs by people I don’t recognize and the hallways are decorated with colored mohawks, chains and fishnet, as well as business suits. Guess which group I’m in?

It’s a busy week, usually arriving on Monday and spending Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday setting up the display and getting ready. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are show days with Sunday usually when we get a chance to visit the other booths and catch up with friends, enemies and competitors.

The big news for Bosendorfer is that our integration into the Yamaha sales and marketing organization was made public and obvious. In the past, including the last 2 years since our acquisition by Yamaha, we displayed as an independent company. Our place was usually in a separate room on the 2nd floor of the main show building. The 2nd floor has individual rooms used by us, Schimmel, Mason & Hamlin, Kawai, Samick, Bechstein and others.  While most makers just set up with few decorations, we had created a scene reminiscent of a Viennese coffeehouse, with indirect lighting, marble top coffee tables and chairs, champagne served in glasses, and espresso and cappuccino made in a $2000 machine using beans from Vienna. It was very elegant, different and effective. It was also a lot of work to set up, take down and maintain (think about washing the glasses and cups – no, we did not hire somebody to do that).

NAMM is a bit of a problem for piano makers. It is very expensive, our products don’t change much and time spent with dealers is always interrupted by people who feel they just HAVE to come in and bang out some Billy Joel tune over and over. So last year we tried something completely different, by installing ourselves at the wonderful Le Merigot hotel on the beach in Santa Monica and having our dealers stay and visit with us there. It was wonderful and effective. Meetings with dealers that usually last 30 noisy minutes at the NAMM show stretched into 2 and 3 hours giving us a chance to really connect with our dealers in a meaningful way. Getting back and forth to Anaheim was a nightmare in LA traffic but the beach made up for it. This year was different in that we made our relationship with Yamaha more public by having a separate room across from the main Yamaha display in the Marriott.

An interesting twist this year is that Yamaha just happened to be introducing a new series of handcrafted concert pianos, the CFX concert grand and the CF4 and CF6. I have a long history with Yamaha (12 years, including 10 as Director of Yamaha Artist Services) and have a huge amount of respect for the seriousness and dedication with which Yamaha approaches concert piano building. Heck, I own one of their concert grands (CFIIIS 51GX). So announcing a significant redesign of their concert grand was a big deal to me and is a very clear message that these 2 companies (Yamaha and Bosendorfer) were not as far apart as some people might think.

NAMM was diminished this year due to the lack of presence of some piano makers, including Bluthner, Steingraeber, Forster, Sauter and Bechstein; all familiar faces in years past. Schimmel, Estonia and Fazioli were all present and a couple examples of Seiler were in the Samick booth. That being said, my take is that the vibe was more positive than in the last couple of years. Our sales were up (not that I’d tell you if they weren’t), dealers seemed more confident than before, the main show floor seemed crowded and there were more “freaks” (pink mohawks etc) than in the past 2 years…all good signs.