An Honest, Accurate Summary of the NAMM Experience

By Andrew Bansal

Another NAMM in the books. My first NAMM experience since 2014, fifth overall, and most certainly the last. Yes, the 2017 edition of this convention finally pushed me past the tipping point in a manner that not only made me question and regret the decision to attend, but convinced me to never attempt to enter the Anaheim Convention Center during a NAMM weekend. Taking all perspectives into consideration, here’s an accurate summary of what a typical NAMM experience is like, and why you should not bother attending, if you haven’t done so yet.

If you’re lucky enough, you are able to afford a hotel room in the vicinity of the convention center. But if you’re not, you’re having to commute every day for up to four days. Once you wade your way through the traffic, which has gone from already bad to far worse because of the 100,000 plus people that have descended upon Southern California merely to attend this convention, and find parking, you get to walk through intense human traffic, wherein you may get to see hundreds of people crossing the street at any given time. On your first day at NAMM, you get to stand in slow-moving lines to pick up your badge, and guess what, they don’t even provide you a laminate to protect your paper-made cool guy pass. What’s more, if you happen to be carrying a backpack (which is very practical to do at NAMM), you will be subjected to security checks as many times as you re-enter the premises. You think you have the patience to handle all this? Bravo, you’re in. What happens next? Let’s see.

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Laminates are not provided, but maps are, utterly useless ones at that. The official NAMM Show Map is ten-fold vertical and three-fold horizontal, which makes it extremely inconvenient to use, as you won’t find the space to stand and open this map without elbowing someone in the face amidst the dense sea of people. Did I mention people? Yes, at least 100,000 of them, a majority of whom have no direct association with the music industry, because passes are literally available for purchase, for a supposedly invite-only trade convention. Of course, there is alcohol involved, and for many attendees, NAMM is merely an excuse and an occasion to socialize and party. Chances are that you claim to love NAMM if you indulge in such activities, but the truth is, you don’t love NAMM, you love the booze and you love to party with your friends. What about food? Yes, there is food, but no real designated areas within the convention center to sit and eat. If you’re still reading, you’re thinking, I’m just a hater and I don’t get the romance of NAMM because I’m not a musician. Well, the musician’s perspective isn’t any better either.

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Have you ever been to a Guitar Center or a drum shop where people are randomly noodling along on any instruments they are allowed to touch? Multiply that by at least 1000, and you’ll achieve the noise level of a NAMM convention. As rightly pointed out in this Guitar World article, which comes from a guitarist’s perspective, no musician would want to play an instrument with that much noise around. For artists endorsing gear brands, it is mandatory to make appearances and do signings at NAMM in more cases than not, but most if not all of them will tell you that they would rather not have to participate in any of it. Many of them have told me in those exact words firsthand, but shall go unnamed for the sake of their relationship with their gear manufactures.

For musicians that aren’t on that level and are simply attending NAMM to test out new gear or seek out an endorsement deal, both are absolutely out of the question. You are only allowed to take pictures with and of top-tier equipment, without touching. If and when you do get to a playable guitar or drumkit, remember, it’s Guitar Center x 1000. And, you won’t find any company representative important enough to consider your case for that endorsement deal you’ve been dreaming about.

What if you’re in a band trying to solicit your demo, or an industry person soliciting other types of services? Wait a few seconds after you’re done talking to the person of interest, and see them toss your demo or business card in the trash. Either that, or they were too inebriated at the time and don’t remember you once they sober up.

But, what if you are a gear manufacturer? After all, this is all about you, isn’t it? Yes, you get to launch new gear, but in the age of advanced internet and broadcast technology and social networking, this convention is quite redundant for such companies, and they may as well set up their own broadcasts and press conferences instead of dealing with the cost and effort involved in setting up and maintaining a booth at NAMM and taking care of employees and artists.

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All in all, NAMM is nothing more than a glorified vacation where no one in the industry has a real chance to accomplish anything, and I for one would suggest you to make better use of your time, money and energy, by staying as far away from this convention as you possibly can.

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