‘This is a new NAMM show, not a replacement’: NAMM boss talks Believe In Music Week

NAMM president and CEO, Joe Lamond, has outlined his vision for next week’s virtual Believe In Music Week and detailed precisely what it has to offer the pro audio industry in an in-depth interview with Audio Media International.

Like all trade shows and gatherings, NAMM was faced with a choice during the COVID-hit summer months of 2020 – postpone indefinitely until in-person events are safe to go ahead as planned or reinvent as a digital proposition. Both are fraught with risk. Postpone, and create yet more uncertainty in an industry already weather-beaten by unknowns and littered with question marks, or persevere with a digital iteration that even the most optimistic trade show organiser would accept is never going to be quite the same as an in-person.

Arguably the two biggest trade shows on the pro audio calendar have been split on this matter. ISE 2021, due to make its inaugural outing at its new home in Barcelona, opted in the summer to postpone from its original February dates to June 1-4 – a date now looking increasingly unlikely due to the devastating second wave of the pandemic so much of the world is currently facing. Meanwhile, NAMM took the decision to construct a digital version of the show that would still take place in January and provide some semblance of normality to the market. The result is NAMM Believe In Music Week, taking place from January 18-22.

Key to NAMM’s virtual offering was the determination to create something new and specifically tailored to the digital platform. Knowing it would be impossible to replicate the experience of an in-person, the goal was to something unique for 2021, as opposed to a mere watered down NAMM Show.

Also key for 2021 was the challenge of maintaining the incredible momentum NAMM has built with the pro audio industry since launching its dedicated audio halls two years ago. This new feature has proved an almost unanimous hit with the pro sound community, with some of the biggest names in the business now describing the show as one of the most important in the year, as several have testified speaking to AMI this week.

To find out more, AMI editor Daniel Gumble sat down for an in-depth chat with president and CEO Joe Lamond to find out how NAMM’s Believe In Music Week was devised and what it has to offer the industry during the most challenging period in its history…

When was the decision taken to make NAMM 2021 a virtual event? And how did you go about preparing for it?
Over the summer, it became increasingly clear that with the dynamic nature of COVID and for the health and safety of our NAMM family, that physically gathering in Anaheim would not be possible. The team got to work on reimagining how to connect and meet the immediate needs of all facets of the industry while benefiting those most deeply impacted by the virus. Recognising that nothing can replace the experience of the annual family reunion of The NAMM Show, we pivoted to a new concept: Believe In Music: the online, global gathering to unify and support the people who bring music to the world, was born.

Believe In Music Week will take place on a powerful, interactive platform called Swapcard, which uses AI technology to connect buyers and sellers, launch new products and engage customers in real-time in a Marketplace. The platform will also offer comprehensive live stream programming through Believe in Music TV, professional development sessions for all segments of industry from top thought-leaders to develop new skills to meet the new realities, and of course, welcome and honor our industry’s most loved events and leaders across the Top 100 Awards, the TEC Awards, Best in Show, and the Grand Rally for Music Education.

The weeklong celebration will welcome domestic and international NAMM members, artists, media, and policymakers, along with participants from GenNext (college music students and faculty), Music Education Days (school music administrators), and Nonprofit Institute (NAMM Foundation grantees and nonprofit affiliates). Emerging and established musicians and fans are invited to connect with brands and in special music-making projects and opportunities to showcase their talents and performances throughout the week, opening the potential to gather music makers in a capacity not restricted by location.

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How does a show like NAMM function as a digital proposition, especially for exhibitors?
For NAMM Members, Believe In Music Week is a market week for new products and innovations across the industry. On the platform, the Marketplace, along with Gear TV, will serve as the hub for buyers and sellers to connect as the central meeting place for brand engagement and product discovery. Powered by AI-facilitated matchmaking, the interactive platform will bring new and existing qualified buyers and sellers together to launch new products and brands, strategise and plan for inventory, as well as grow their networks. Music enthusiasts, educators and other industry professions from around-the-world will also have the chance to experience what’s new, maximizing the reach of attendees like never before.

What does Believe in Music have to offer pro audio exhibitors and participants?
Adaptation and meeting new challenges posted by COVID and continued economic recovery will be paramount as we move into a new year and return to work for all sectors. In addition to connecting buyers and sellers in the Marketplace, one of the best ways to get ahead of the competition will be to participate in over 150 valuable education sessions from leading experts on the latest strategies, tactics, and best practices to advance your business and career.

Believe in Music week’s educational sessions will offer a variety of opportunities for professionals to learn from the experts, at every stage of their career. Sessions for recording, live sound, house of worship professionals and music technologists will dive into the latest tools, tips and innovations while also exploring the landscape of new technology.

Educational partners in the Audio Production and Music Technology track include TEC Tracks, where members will take part in big-picture sessions and high-profile topics in recording, live sound, and music business with the likes of Dave Cobb, Craig Bauer, Patrice Rushen, John Boylan, Suzanne Ciani, Billy Bob Thornton, Peter Asher, and others.  AES (Audio Engineering Society) will also join Believe in Music to present educational sessions on key topics for audio professionals, including next steps for the live event and A3E, Advanced Audio + Applications Exchange, will also return with a series of future-forward education on how next-generation content creation is reshaping the entertainment industry. Topics will include content creation platforms pioneering new music industry business models, applying gamification principles to music instrument design, concerts in a virtual world, and live versus live streaming.

Audinate will offer free Dante certification training of its leading audio-video network solution, including updated levels 1 and 2 training. At the end of these trainings, attendees should be skilled enough to complete the Dante certification test.

How much of a focus is there on pro audio from NAMM? It seems the sector has become an increasingly important aspect of the show since the launch of the audio halls just a few years ago?
A few years back the team here at NAMM developed our ‘Crossroads Plan,’ in which we envisioned all aspects of the music and sound industries gathering together. To use the analogy of a band on tour, so many aspects have to come together for the show to be successful. Pro audio has evolved quickly, and new products are driving audience expectations ever higher. From concert hall and live festivals to house of worship and school theatre, pro audio and production have become part of the event and we think that will only become more important as we return to live performance after the pandemic.

How has the participation of pro audio exhibitors increased since the launch of the pro audio halls?
It is our fastest growing segment of educational offerings and of our show. 

What opportunities does the virtual platform offer participants?
Our vision for Believe In Music Week, especially with the freedom of not being restricted to physically being in Anaheim as well as the choice to have some content pre-recorded, is to be the online, global gathering to unite and support the people who bring music to the world and with that, celebrating the intrinsic value of music – after all, that’s what’s connects all of to this industry and to each other.

We want this to be fun and interactive. I’ll be hosting the two days of Believe In Music TV along with many special industry guests and artists. We’ll have interviews, performances, some of the top educational sessions like a virtual Breakfast of Champions and Best in Show. We will also be honoring our members with The Top 100 Dealer Awards, The TEC Awards, She Rocks, and a special Parnelli Award retrospective. We’ll also have really interesting content produced by our members around the globe. And since we can’t have a big concert out on the Grand Plaza, the two-day live stream will also feature a film by Yamaha about the incredible impact music has had on our world, especially during tough times like this pandemic. We’ll have all of this scheduled out on the Believe website, and I imagine people will want to use the platform’s scheduling feature to plan their time carefully, so much you won’t want to miss!

What are the biggest challenges you face in hosting such a vast online event, both logistically and in terms of convincing participants that there is still value in a virtual iteration of NAMM 2021?
Nothing can replace the value, opportunities or experience of the NAMM Show, our annual family reunion. From walking the halls and running into long-time industry friends, or catching up at one of the hotel bars, a virtual experience cannot replace the human connection we share. For this reason, we decided that a virtual event needed to be new, not a replacement, for the NAMM Show and to deliver the opportunities, support and training and education to help our members meet the challenges of now and prepare for the future. It’s why through Believe In Music Week – to unify and support the people who bring music to the world – we’ll be supporting ten new charitable organizations as well as dozens of our traditional NAMM Foundation grantees to help not only our industry friends who’ve been out of work, but also those friends who work day in and day out to ensure access to music education.

Tell us about the educational/training offering from NAMM 2021?
Believe In Music week will offer four main tracks for music products, pro audio and entertainment technology professionals. In addition to the aforementioned Audio Production and Music Technology track, the week will also feature Business (NAMM U), Entertainment Technology, and Artists tracks, along with The NAMM Foundation track, specifically for nonprofit professionals, educators and others in music and arts.

Each day of education, Thursday, January 21, and Friday, January 22, will kick off with an opening big-picture session featuring industry VIPs Garth Brooks and Melissa Etheridge – our 2021 Music for Life honorees – with their perspectives of what to expect in the year ahead.

The Business Track (NAMM U) will bring together the top minds in the industry to offer actionable strategies, tactics and best practices for music retailers and brands to navigate to the next level. At the heart of the track is NAMM U for member-only sessions on pressing topics, including “SEO Tips for 2021” by SEO expert Bill Sebald; “Email Marketing Tips to Increase Sales by 3x” by Ayana Webb of The Musical Webb; and a variety of sessions on online marketing and social media strategy, branding, virtual lesson programs, and creative ways to manage inventory and cash during a pandemic. Bob Phibbs, “The Retail Doctor,” and New York Times best-selling author, Scott Stratten, will also return for special sessions.

The Entertainment Technology track will feature in-depth education and training sessions for entertainment technology and design professionals, as well as those responsible for their safety. Partners include the Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA), Front of House, Projection, Lights & Staging News, and Stage Directions magazines, Lighting&Sound America  and PLASA, the Event Safety Alliance (ESA), who will bring together academics and industry professionals to explore critical issues within the live event space, including safety in production design, risk management, COVID-19 mitigation planning and more, and Show Makers, a resource hub for the live events community, will share sessions on touring, careers, leadership, mental health and more.

Other tracks include the Artist Track, for emerging and established artists, songwriters and studio musicians, and The NAMM Foundation Track, to serve those in music and arts advocacy, management and education, social justice and career resources for emerging professionals.

What would your message be to potential attendees who haven’t registered yet?
First, I would say that this is not the same as going to the NAMM Show, sorry, it’s just not. The NAMM Show is a pilgrimage that industry professionals make from all over the globe and stepping onto the NAMM Campus cannot be replicated in the virtual world. However, in its own right, this event will accomplish three important things, the launch of new products that will drive the industry into the New Year, provide the professional education and training that will lead to growth and success for each attendee and finally, Believe Week will replicate the sense of community that can only happen when creative music industry professionals gather to share and inspire. I wouldn’t miss it.