12 minute read

Five Minutes With


President and CEO, NAMM

Instead of covering Summer NAMM in a cover story this month, as is generally the tradition in our June issue, we invited Joe Lamond, president and CEO of NAMM, to discuss the show in this interview. He talks about what to look forward to during the July 12 to 16 Summer NAMM Week, how to keep all the new players that joined MI during the pandemic engaged in music, plus much more.

The Music & Sound Retailer: There is a lot going on during Summer NAMM Week from July 12 to 16, including the National Association of School Music Dealers (NASMD) Show, an Alliance of Independent Music Merchants (AIMM) meeting, a Retail Print Music Dealers Association (RPMDA) event and the actual Summer NAMM Show. Tell us everything that will be going on next month.

Joe Lamond: I think you laid it all out. My work is done [laughs]. It has been a long time since we have seen each other. Many groups in the industry have not been able to meet during the pandemic and are using the Summer NAMM platform as an opportunity to get back in the water. Our industry is so diverse. Within this diversity are groups that meet to really advance their segments, whether school band, piano and organs, or the touring industry. It is great to have them convene around Summer NAMM. It will make the week very effective for everybody. RPMDA will have a mini conference, as it had a virtual event the past two years. Also meeting are AIMM and the Event Safety Alliance, and Worship Musician magazine is hosting an event for those in that area of the business. And of course, there’s Summer NAMM, an independent, community music store event. It is different than Winter NAMM.

There is one group of NAMM members who will not miss Summer NAMM no matter what. They are eager. They are market makers. They are the epitome of the entrepreneurial spirit. They get knocked down seven times, they get up eight times. They are the samurai entrepreneurs. There is another group that will never come to Summer NAMM. They never went before. Winter NAMM might have been everything they needed. And this year in particular, some people are not feeling safe yet. I totally respect that. Some will not feel safe traveling for some time.

What we are really focused on is the middle group. They have interest in going, a desire to go and to have a good return on investment if they go. But they are just not sure. We are trying to get them to go and join the samurai entrepreneurs. “You should go. Here is why.” They are great retailers, and NAMM University sessions can help them in their professional lives. And what I felt when I went to Nashville [last month] was this pent-up desire to reengage with the world and step out into the world. Nashville is one of the better places to do that.

Summer NAMM is going to be a smaller gathering for sure. It will look different. But it is possibly one of the more important gatherings of our industry. I feel it is an obligation to produce this show. I feel it is a responsibility to create this platform. But I also feel the weight of making sure we get it right. We can provide a safe and secure environment for the industry to meet.

were when you visited Nashville last month and how it will be a safe environment?

Lamond: When I was a road manager, I had a saying: “It is impossible to over-advance a gig.” You have to make sure every detail is covered. Every detail at every stop on a tour has to be organized. I wanted to see Nashville with my own eyes. I flew there on a Tuesday night and came back on a Thursday night. What I saw was a community that is thriving in spite of a pandemic. I saw it has found a common ground between taking care of everybody, but also recognizing that life is absolutely thriving. From the arrival at the airport to the ride to the hotel to getting to the hotel and the convention center itself, everyone was wearing masks. I really felt good about the respect everyone was exhibiting. Walking around outside in Nashville, people did not have masks.

I met with all of the people we needed to meet in Nashville. On May 14, they dropped all [COVID-19] requirements. Nashville is leaving it up to companies, businesses, restaurants and hotels to decide. That was the date there were no longer any restrictions from the government. That was a big step. They had big events planned prior to our arrival. [In fact,] there were events at the Music City Center planned all the way up to our arrival. They are planning July 4 fireworks, which is a big deal in Nashville with 150,000 attendees. The week before we arrive, they will have had experience with large events. For the average NAMM member, if your store has been open already, this will be something you have seen before. For other NAMM members who have worked at home, I can tell you getting out into the world felt really good for me. I felt

human again. I felt like I belong. There is a robust community of humans that are out there. I felt a part of Nashville and the music scene again. The feeling of isolation in the past year drifted away quickly. The good habits came right back. And I think they will for many of our members. I went to an event at Gibson [in early May]. We shook hands. I was fine with it. It just felt normal. We went back to tradition. Will we be careful? Yes. But it was amazing how quickly everything went back to being about the industry.

NAMM members would never ask their teams to do something they would not do. That is always something that I have greatly admired about NAMM members. The city of Nashville is back. I want to move to Nashville. I don’t think I could afford to own a house there now, but I want to move to Nashville. As a city, it has done a lot of things right. For us, they are ready for our gathering. It is different than Anaheim. This is our gathering and the people we know. My prediction is that everyone who goes is going to be so surprised about how much they miss everyone. I think those who don’t go are going to regret it. They will be at home that week saying “I should have gone.”

Part of it is predicting where we will be in July. Nobody knows. The trajectory is positive. Economics are certainly very positive. We are taking chances. There are risks involved with everything.

The Retailer: Let’s move beyond the safety concerns for this next question. For those people who have decided to attend or who are on the fence, let’s get into the “old-school” question of how will going to Summer NAMM next month improve their businesses?

Lamond: We are in a once-in-lifetime moment in our industry. You and I will never experience this again. We were not [active in MI] for Beatlemania in 1964 and 1965. This is our version of that, for most, not all, but many of our members. There is business to be had. We have to solve some of our key issues. School music dealers will be laser focused on getting kids back to school this fall and into music programs. Without this, everyone downstream should be worried. For NAMM members in general, we have supply issues. It is a terrible problem to have. We are in business to move things through the marketplace. If you are unable to do that, you are not optimizing the current conditions. Other NAMM members are shipping. The next major company is in a tiny booth right now looking to take advantages of today’s opportunities. You will see that a lot at Summer NAMM. They will say they can fill the supply chain with instruments retailers need in their stores. This is a reverse of the past couple of years, where there was a lot of supply chasing, less demand. Right now, there is more demand than there

"We are focused on

the middle group. They have interest in going, a desire to go and to have a good return on investment. But
they are not sure. We are trying to get them to go and join the samurai entrepreneurs."

is supply. We have probably not seen that in our lifetimes. We may never see it again. The samurai entrepreneur that will be at Summer NAMM is going to be laser focused on solving some of those challenges, but also seizing those opportunities. There are people who want to make music. People want to buy musical instruments. There are school districts getting unbelievable support from the government that will be shoveled into these schools that can be used for music programs. We really have to connect supply with demand. We have to be able to meet the demand that is in the marketplace right now.

The Retailer: Will the supply-demand challenge be a major theme of NAMM University sessions during Summer NAMM? Also, will there be an online component for those who cannot attend?

Lamond: Yes, it will be a focus of NAMM U. The Event Safety Alliance will be speaking with NASMD members about not only safely returning to schools, but concerts and festivals that so many of our members are involved in. The beauty of NAMM U is, every year, [NAMM director of professional development] Zach Phillips takes a blank piece of paper and says, “What are people talking about right now? What are the challenges right now?”

Some of it will be online. We want to make sure this information gets out as broadly as possible to do the most amount of good. NAMM U’s online content is robust now. [For example,] Mary Luehrsen [NAMM director of public affairs and government relations] created great webinars on going back to school safely. Right now, NAMM members can go online and find a tremendous amount of resources that will help them in their stores today.

Also at the forefront is something I sum up with four letters: MSFQ. [More to start. Fewer to quit.] As an entire industry, we have one job: get more to start playing. Get fewer to quit playing. You get that right and everything else starts to take care of itself. People are doing a great job at that. The NAMM Foundation has dozens of programs that help with this. If someone does not know how to create their own programs to get more to start and fewer to quit, just look at the NAMM grantee list. There are 2.5 million kids who have gone through a GAMA [Guitars and Accessories Manufacturer Association] program or a Guitars in the Classroom program. A lot of them, now in their 20s and 30s, likely looked into getting a guitar during the pandemic. Has that shaped the future of guitars? Absolutely. Getting more to start is something we are going to stay on like a dog with a bone.

But what we are [focusing on] right now is the second half: fewer to quit. The pandemic caused a lot of people to get breadmakers, RVs [recreational vehicles] and guitars. With so many instruments pushed into the market right now, we have to be very focused on getting the fewer to quit part. That involves programs, activities, online learning and training. We need these new players to become permanent players and move up the ladder of playing to a nicer instrument, a second instrument or performing in groups. We need to make sure these new music-makers do not put their instruments in the closet or on sale in the secondary market in a year or two.

Although, I do want to buy an RV in about a year and a half from now [laughs]. People will realize they don’t like RVs but bought them anyway. They will want to sell them.

The Retailer: The more to start part of the equation is absolutely there in droves right now. But in terms of fewer to quit, are you concerned some of the new players are in our industry due to sheer boredom?

Lamond: Am I worried about more to start, fewer to quit? It is all I worry about … It is our job. Our No. 1 focus as an industry. This is a unique time to worry about the fewer to quit part, because we always put more of an effort into more to start. As an industry, we have to work together to make sure we have paths for these players to continue playing. We have a greater opportunity than ever, but have to work together to do it. It will be a very important topic among retailers, vendors and associations like GAMA and Guitars in the Classroom. We cannot let this opportunity slip away from us. If we do, there will be a generation that looks back on us and says, “Man, you guys blew it. You had all these new players and you did not find a path for them to continue playing. What a missed opportunity.”

The Retailer: Let’s conclude with other activities and events attendees will see at Summer NAMM when they are not on the show floor. Will we see any of these activities executed differently?

Lamond: There will be specific industry-focused events each night. Gibson will have an event Wednesday night [July 14] at the new Gibson Garage. NASMD is working on tours of some of its vendors in Nashville. There will also be dinners — small group meetings that involve people coming together. If you think of Summer NAMM, there is so much camaraderie when you get 10 member companies together and going to dinner. NAMM has a board [of directors] alumni group that has gotten together for dinner for a number of years. So, there will be industry events, and then those impromptu meetings. We will also have our Top 100 event on Thursday [July 15].

But I don’t want to forget about Nashville itself. I walked down the street on a Wednesday night and every single building had a live band. Nashville has been really stepping it up with its influx of new residents. I cannot tell you how much I missed seeing live music. So on top of the events I mentioned, you have Nashville. You can get out and enjoy the city. Between industry events, impromptu dinners and Nashville itself, even if you come for only a couple of days, you will find it was worthwhile on the business side, it was worthwhile on the camaraderie side and it was really worthwhile on the psychological side of stepping out into the world and saying, “OK, we are back.” … We will be ready to [host Summer NAMM], and it will be a wonderful gathering.