Joe Lammond outside NAMM

Exclusive: Joe Lamond on what to expect at NAMM 2022

Ahead of his standing down as President and CEO of NAMM, we speak to Joe Lamond about his twenty year-stint as head honcho of one of the industry’s most important associations, and learn how the upcoming June show has ended up being one of NAMM’s most pivotal.

In announcing his departure from the role of President and CEO of NAMM in the summer of last year, Joe Lamond – the man who has overseen NAMM’s collective endeavours for the last twenty years – marked the end of an era of staggering global growth and unprecedented importance, not to mention the annual trade shows cementing themselves as cornerstones for the music making industry.

Since taking the role back in 2001, Joe has witnessed the exponential boom of software-based companies taking even more of the limelight from traditional instrument manufacturers, as well as the rise of the internet, a boom in digital B2B relationships and, most recently, a global pandemic. Navigating these industry-reshaping shifts and jolts has been keeping Lamond busy over the past few decades, and now, as NAMM 2022 prepares for its grand opening on June 3rd, Joe is looking forward to bringing his presidency to a climax with the deft merging the summer event with the Anaheim-based winter staple, though he has next year’s NAMM to oversee, too. We spoke to Joe to find out more about his life at the helm of NAMM, and to understand what aspects of running the show have provided him with the most joy, and where the winds of change will sail him next…

AMI: So, firstly, we should talk about the fact that you’re stepping down from the role that you’ve been doing for 20 + years, what prompted this change?

Joe Lamond: I think in a sense we’re all artists, and artists drive our society. They push us, make us uncomfortable make us feel all those wonderful things with their art and their music, so I think at heart I was still a little bit of an artist. I thought ‘what’s next’. I’ve had a wonderful, wonderful time, we accomplished a lot together. But, I need to be uncomfortable, I need to be pushed and always be out there on the edge. That was really one of the drivers. There was really nothing wrong at all. I think we want to keep pushing ourselves.

AMI: The NAMM show is obviously back this year, for the first in-person NAMM since 2020. What can attendees expect, and has it been more challenging than usual to organise the upcoming show?

Joe Lamond: We use that phrase ‘transformation and tradition’, because so much has changed. Nobody is going to arrive at NAMM 2022 the same as they were in 2020. We’ve all changed. We’ve all been impacted by this pandemic and many of us have lost loved ones. Our industry tribute to the people we’ve lost during this time is 280 people long. We’ve all been changed by this, so that’s the transformative part. Companies have changed and had to adapt. Also, there’s a tradition to this. We are in a sense still dealing with the fact that people love to come together around music, whether it’s concerts or theatre, or education – we’re rooted in tradition. If you’re arriving at the show this year you’re going to be thinking ‘which foot am I leading with? The transformative foot or the traditional foot’.

I think there’s going to be this interesting experience when we get there of wanting to feel nostalgic and getting back to that place we were which was wonderful, but at the same time it’s different. Kind of like Frodo going back to The Shire in The Lord of the Rings. You’re not the same person any more, you’ve changed, and we have. People will recognise a lot of it, there’s a lot you will find familiar, but at the same time the exhibits will be different. So, those two words – transformation and tradition – best describe what to expect. You’ll find a home that you remember. But, it won’t be the same, because you’re not the same.

NAMM 2022 - Exterior

AMI: Do you think the switch to hosting the show in June – and the merging of Summer and Winter NAMMs – will change anything about the show’s ethos this year?

Joe Lamond: The cycle of our show being in January traditionally meant that it was aligned with a time of renewal, coming out of the Christmas holidays and looking ahead to a new year. This show belongs in January and it will return there. We’ve got one more off-cycle show in April, and we’re smaller – we’re probably half the size that you remember. As organisers, I kind of think that’s a challenge sometimes. We’ve made it all fit and we’ll make it flow well. But, as organisers we like big. Then again attendees were saying that it was maybe getting a little too big for a while.

There’s going to be a big difference regarding the fact that it’s a different time of year, and the show is smaller. Some companies are demonstrating some amazing innovations, while others are just barely keeping up with supply chain issues and other macro economic issues. It’s a disruptive time. I think the show will illustrate how the show has changed and how disruptive things are right now. The people who are there are going to be the ones looking for those clues as to how the industry’s future will go. It’s an interesting one, there’ll be a lot of curious people, looking to see if they can predict the future of the industry.

AMI: Navigating NAMM’s trajectory out of COVID must have been tough, what have been some of the key priorities for NAMM beyond the show’s organisation over the last couple of years?

Joe Lamond: Number one was helping our membership through it, and number two was helping our membership through it. Probably number three, four and five too. That was everything from funding studies to figure out how soon music classes could come back safely. Literally funding aerosol studies about wind instruments and how to set up a band room post-COVID. Lobbying the government for relief for the parts of the industry that had to shut down, particularly the touring and live sectors. Helping other governments around the world understand the value of this sector to the economy, and help support them.

Though we’ve got a lot of multi-nationals, a lot of our members are small businesses, manufacturers and retailers. They were looking for guidance on the latest regulations on opening safely and how to resume safely. Tens of millions of dollars were put into the education system to help schools and a lot of that went to the arts.

Every industry needs a voice, and that’s the role we found during the pandemic that I think was most needed. Since we weren’t doing the physical gatherings. On the other hand, we had to survive ourselves. Sometimes, there were sleepless nights with no revenue. Luckily, we’d built up some reserves over the years which allowed us to keep all our team paid and employed, and able to work diligently on behalf of the industry. So, that was how I spent most of my time – helping our members and helping our organisation get through this.

AMI: The virtual ‘Believe in Music’ week was a fantastic way around not having a real show, yet still keeping NAMM a critical fixture. How different was that to organise?

Joe Lamond: It was weird to go back to your own bed every night instead of a hotel! It was really fun and we learned a lot. Some of which we’ve applied to this show. WIth NAMM Show+ you’ll be able to access the first true digital version of our show. I think one of the thing we learned was how many countries there are around the world that couldn’t attend the physical show, but wanted to. I think out of the 195 countries in the world we had 180 that attended and participated in Believe in Music. For those who are physically there, this app will be a great tool to help you be more organised and network more easily. You can watch a session while running to another meeting.

The NAMM Show + app will not just make the show more effective, but for those who can’t come at all, there’ll be multiple streaming events from the show, from the education sessions or the entertainment. This is our first time welcoming so many people from around the world into the NAMM experience via NAMM Show+. We took what we learned and it’s now going to forever be part of our physical gatherings.

For us, how to make those that are there virtually have some semblance of the same experience as those that are there physically is the toughest challenge. Because it won’t be the same. Trying to emulate the physical experience virtually is difficult. It’s almost like trying to describe a sunset to someone versus just watching it. That’s the challenge for anyone in this space now, approximating an experience. They simply aren’t the same.

AMI: Can you remember your very first NAMM, what year was that? And what products were making a splash back then?

Joe Lamond: I was 22 years old, it was January 1983. I was working for a small music store in Sacramento. As a little holiday present they sent me and the other store manager to the NAMM show. We were young and had never been before. It was amazing. It was probably a fraction of the size it is now, but it was still so overwhelming. We felt so inadequate and like we didn’t belong there. I had an absolute blast but I never forgot that feeling of ‘this thing is so big, and I’m just from a small store’ I’ve always tried to think about attendees at the NAMM show in that way.

Every year there’s someone just like I was, coming to the show for the first time. My goal has always been to make that person feel as welcome as a long lost friend. That had been the vision that we created with the NAMM show, to make it your place, it’s your clubhouse. It’s where you come to see all your friends and do you business. Over the years it’s always a difficult task, especially as it got bigger, but that was still always the goal. So whether it’s their fiftieth show or their first, they feel like they’re at home. Our team has done a wonderful job at that.

Joe Lammond and Stevie Wonder
                        Joe with a NAMM regular… Stevie Wonder

AMI: Can you remember some of the products that you first saw at NAMM’s over the years, that made you think ‘wow, that’s going to be a game-changer!’

Joe Lamond: I mean there’s been so many breakthroughs. When MIDI was introduced springs to mind. Oddly enough one of the first meetings around MIDI was at my first show in 1983. Needless to say I wasn’t involved in it, but that’s when that started. I remember the breakthrough in mixing consoles that enhanced sound quality, ADAT was huge. I remember people saying to me ‘let me get this straight, there are an * endless* number of tracks?” Back in the day of course, some of the best music ever recorded was done via bouncing back and forth between 8 tracks of tape, but when those limitations were lifted that was a really big deal. Those types of things were mind-blowing technology breakthroughs.

It’s interesting at the same time as all this was happening we celebrated a Les Paul and a Strat, or my instrument the drums. There were refinements but they were fundamentally unchanged as the years went on. So that transformation and tradition concept has perhaps always been a part of our show.

AMI: There seems to be a pattern of long-term leadership of the NAMM Presidency – with both William Gard and Larry Linkin taking the role for considerable stretches. Is it a role that’s hard to let go of, and what aspects will you miss?

Joe Lamond: Yeah, you’ve got to go back to 1947 when Bill Gard started. Then Larry Linkin is the only living former CEO of NAMM. He’s the only one I get to talk to and commiserate with. Prior to my role (and I was already working here, I just moved offices down the hall when I came in in 2001), the last time NAMM put together a search committee was 1981.I said recently that if practice makes perfect we’re going to do very poorly at this because we don’t do this very often!

I think steady leadership has been one of the hallmarks of NAMM, and I think that’s lead to long term success for NAMM. But it’s also critical to know when it’s time for new leadership. As much as I was also looking to be challenged and move on, I also knew that the world was changing enough for someone with a different vision and a different perspective to take the reins. I remember the show from 1983 to my last one in 2020 – that’s a lot of pattern recognition. I thought it’d make sense for someone to look at it completely differently. Our industry is changing too, the gathering will be changing. I felt that it was responsible to start the process at the 2020 show.

Whoever takes the role will be better equipped to plan NAMM’s future, they’ll probably make less mistakes than I made, they’ll obviously be better looking because that’s a low bar! But change is good, and it’s accelerating very fast right now. I mean we don’t do this very often, there’s only been three CEOs since World War II.

To quote Peter Drucker, the aim of a nonprofit like NAMM is a changed human being. So, your methodology is different and your planning is different. By definition those things take longer. It can take years to find the right projects to invest in, let alone undertake them and publish and peer review them, and use them. That’s a good five/six year run. The profit world is more focused on the next quarter’s financials. Associations have a longer timeline to get things done – that doesn’t meant they’re less efficient but it’s down to the fact that they do different things. If we lobby the US congress for a law change, that can affect 50 million school kids this fall. No one company in the industry can have that sort of impact, but collectively as an organisation, an association can. We can literally impact the education of school kids, with a change of language that we lobbied for.Joe

AMI: Do you think that NAMM and Anaheim are now interconnected, and what’s the reason that the Anaheim Convention Center has cemented itself as NAMM’s home for so long?

Joe Lamond: I think it’s the right place for our members. Most of us are regular working people. There’s something about that community in Southern California which is comfortable. Our families feel comfortable coming here. We do have a very family feel to this organisation. The tradition part is important too. NAMM’s 121 years old now, but Anaheim has become synonymous with us as a group of loyal working people that bring the tools to music to the world. It’s a nice place to be, the facility has grown with us over time. They’ve always been accommodating and literally built new halls as we grew too. In 1983 when I came this thing was two little halls. That’s how big NAMM was then. Even though we’re half the size we were in 2020 we’re still taking up the whole convention center.

AMI: Finally, when you think back on your twenty year+ stint as the head of NAMM, what have been the biggest thrills and the biggest learns for you – and where do you think you’ll head next?

Joe Lamond: It’ll be 21 years this month as CEO, though I’ve been with NAMM for 24. I’ll be here one more year. It will always come down to the people that we’ve been able to work with. Visiting NAMM members around the world, visiting their factories, their stores and having dinner in their homes. It’s always going to be about the people. These are very special people, most of them are trying to create a more musical world, and that’s the why of what they do.

The fact that we’ve been able to work with these wonderful people for a lifetime has been fantastic. There’s been such camaraderie. I’ve got a million stories of meeting wonderful people, and that’s what I’ll never ever forget. Yes there’s the shows and there’s the logistics and trucks and budgets. If you ask ten members of NAMM what we should do you’ll get eleven different opinions back. But some moments will never be repeated. My role allowed me to meet some absolute heroes. I was just lucky enough to be there and absorb those moments and appreciate them. For a little kid from Buffalo, New York that was an exciting ride.

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