Trade shows aren’t what they used to be. For those of us who love music technology and the spirit of invention, it’s a good thing – why shouldn’t people be coming up with ideas year round? Why not spread them in places other than the gray, fluorescent glow of a big trade show floor open only to the industry?
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for those moments when an entire industry can come together face-to-face. And perhaps with that in mind, NAMM next week in January is gearing up to what looks like a very big week for new toys and tools, even as some vendors – notably a number of the bigger software makers – take a pass.
We’ll be in Anaheim for NAMM at the end of next week, and there are very good reasons to be excited about the trip. Some of the news, indeed, we’ll have in advance of the show, and in some cases can even publish it. Possibly triggered by leaks, we saw a big announcement from Moog last week as well as the first of three from Akai.
Here are 10 reasons to be “stoked,” in California parlance, for what’s happening in music tech this January:
1. Casio back in the synthesizer business. Matrixsynth gets some great scoops and research on this one, aided by ComputerMusicGuide. Whatever Casio’s reputation, the’ve produced some of our all-time favorite synths — particularly those in the CZ line. Sure, some of these twee, adorable low-end models may have become the butt of hipster jokes, but make no mistake: phase distortion is genius. So, that makes it intriguing just what Casio is teasing for NAMM. Will this be just another entry in a crowded entry-level synth market already well covered by the likes of Korg, Novation, and recently even Avid? Or can Casio channel some of the greatness of its history into something genuinely new and different?
2. Teenage Engineering. I’m in regular touch with TE, and I have no idea what this video is about, but I know the Teenage guys always come up with something fun to look at – thanks to some serious industrial design chops and imagination, and a business small enough to get from idea to prototype quickly. Synthtopia takes notice; DE:BUG predicts a designer synth; I’m imagining an accessory.
3. Moog. We already know Moog is in with a new monosynth called the Minitaur, at just US$679. The design is traditional, but the sound and playability look top-notch. With the accessible pricing – even with the cat out of the bag (the bull out of the … pen?) – this could be a show highlight. And given the popularity of Animoog, I wouldn’t put another surprise or two past the North Carolina company. Oh yeah, and since it’ll be hard to play with the Moog but easier to get a feel for the Akai controller and software, this is tied for me with seeing the other big announcement last week in person – the Akai Revolution.
4. Universal Audio: DSP vendor UA has been on a bit of a roll lately, and I expect something big from them. Stay tuned.
5. Line 6 tells us they’re launching something major at the show. No clue what it is, but this vendor has been exploding into markets from guitars to iOS, so stay tuned; they’re atop the visit list.
6. KORG has been especially adept at giving users what they want, from the inexpensive, accessible-analog Monotrons to ground-breaking mobile apps for iOS and even Nintendo DS, and some major, crowd-pleasing hardware. NAMM is a big show for all of the big three from Japan – Yamaha, KORG, and Roland – and of the three of them, KORG are the ones that I hear people buzzing about already. (You hear that, Roland and Yamaha? Them’s fightin’ words… we’ll be visiting you, too…)
7. The Basement. Once the dominion of only hard-core synth geeks, the blogiverse has made some of the odder, boutique creations and analog labors-of-love more interesting to average electronic musicians than the splashy booths and bigger names. From French Eowave to local modules, I know there are some very nice folks showing up I’m eager to meet. I even hear MeeBlip designer James Grahame may be lurking around Disneyland…
8. Parties … off-campus. There are always some good parties around the NAMM area, but it’s getting into Los Angeles and away from Anaheim that has appeal for me. We’ll be teaming up with local live performance collective Interface LA for a Very Controllerist Party at downtown LA’s Bootleg Theater, with Mike Slott headlining and unique performance rigs from Moldover, Rich DDT, and Nonagon, and some great crews from both SF and LA. Stay tuned for details on that. I also hear Droid Behavior will have one of their legendary loft parties going for Wham Bam … maybe I should just stay awake until my early-Saturday flight back to Berlin.
9. Waffle House and IHOP. Oh, yeah.
10. Surprises. I expect enormous displays from Yamaha and Roland in particular. But I can usually keep up with bigger players from a distance. NAMM is a time when I typically get surprised by vendors who I didn’t know were coming up with products – and get to see them face-to-face. And that’s why walking the show floor in person can truly be a pleasure. So, if you’re afraid we might not find your booth, please do get in touch and don’t be shy. Time is short, and stuff slips through the cracks, but we might be able to find a story about what you’re doing.
See also MusicRadar’s take on what to watch, which also looks forward to guitar announcements and some celebrity appearances.
I could go on and complain about Anaheim, the inability to hear on the show floor, the poor conditions for doing any reporting, the fact that “live” coverage is a joke thanks to dreadful wifi networks, and so on. But there are just too many reasons I think we’ll enjoy this year’s coverage. I’ll get stuff up as quickly as possible this week, and then we’re back to our usual coverage of tech and music the following week.