NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) is both a cultural melting pot and an extended family for music lovers all over the world. Actively engaging in corporate goodwill, the NAMM Foundation supports Save the Music, which has put music instruments into the hands of countless students in public schools. The organization’s spirit of inclusiveness and diversity was clearly present during its “Believe in Music” virtual event January 20-21, 2022, which brought together a broad spectrum of artists, gear manufacturers, audio engineers and teachers—to provide music insight and tips to professionals who work in the industry, music fans, and those who fit into both categories. As streaming platforms go, this is probably the only place where you can find ukulele workshops alongside drumming tutorials, predictions about the future of music from industry leaders in Europe and one-on-one interviews with well-known music personalities and remote concert performances.

NAMM’s “Believe in Music” hosts Herb Trawick & Joe Lamond

For those apprehensive about streaming platforms, NAMM offered one that was easy to use, complete with a video tutorial and breakdown of the two-day event—so you could pick and choose  according to subject area interests, and make yourself available for those live streaming events. Categories ranging from new product lines, and income streams for musicians, to interviews with well established artists, and special concerts were all on the bill, making this a binge-worthy event and, if you’re on the east coast as I am, a great excuse for beating the cold, staying indoors and curling up with a warm beverage and your laptop.

Steve Vai

One of the elements of NAMM’s “Believe in Music” that shines through with diamond-like clarity is the tribal aspect for all music lovers. While in the midst of the recent Omicron variant, a little assistance from 21st century technology can bring us all together to connect and celebrate the healing power of music. Another aspect of the event is the music industry’s willingness to harness technology for musician and product income streams and as a necessary implement in the artist’s creative toolbox.

As soon as I scrolled through NAMM’s “Believe in Music” lineup, I was impressed with the range of music genres represented by the livestream interviews. Most of the artists have experienced NAMM conventions prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and you get the feeling after hearing them speak that most of them are still nurturing their inner-music fan.

Keb’ Mo’

Thursday afternoon kicked off with music touchstone Elliot Easton, guitarist of the Cars. Speaking from an office in casual shirt, with art school bowl haircut and glasses, Easton talked about his musical influences: George Harrison, Cornell Dupree, Steve Cropper and Buddy Guy. Easton went on to explain that he tries to learn something from anybody who is good, comparing the practice to soaking something up like a sponge. With a mom that was Juilliard trained, Easton always knew what he wanted to do with his life. He’s been attending NAMM shows for several years and talked about it being a real brotherhood—and the fun of seeing all the new equipment and guitars. Easton brought things full circle, in a way, reflecting on February 9th, 1964 when The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, changing music, culture and the trajectory of many musicians’ lives forever.

The Cars’ guitarist Elliot Easton

Gibson Guitar CEO JC Curleigh, who was recently voted onto the NAMM Board, joined the conference from Gibson Garage in Nashville—to talk about the challenges and successes experienced by Gibson and music instrument manufacturers. Gibson Guitar came out of 2019 strong and then Covid-19 almost derailed the company’s progress. The upshot of this Covid crisis has been a lot of people having time to focus on music, and in the process, a spotlight has been put on Gibson. As Curleigh spoke, the assembly line of guitars glided gloriously above him, much like earthbound angels waiting for hungry musicians to breathe life into them. Sporting salt and pepper hair and beard, Curleigh’s message was a positive one. He talked about opportunities, being part of the new norm, innovating and leading—to harness the power of this moment.

Gibson Brands CEO – JC Curleigh

NAMM, in 2019, saw the rebirth of Gibson—which has never been stronger and literally can’t make enough guitars today to keep up with customer demand. The CEO gave us some glimpses into where the company is headed for the future. Kramer, a throwback to the 1980s, has been relaunched, as have Maestro Pedals. Guitar amplifier manufacturer MESA/Boogie in Petaluma, CA and GWW guitar carrying cases are new additions to Gibson’s family tree. Curleigh promised Gibson would deliver inspired synergy, building lifelong fans and cited TikTok, to record labels, to charts, as the trajectory for the next wave of famous musicians. In closing, Curleigh thanked everyone in the industry, his team and NAMM.

Jazz musician Justin Klunk

Take A Daytrip, made up of Denzel Baptiste and David Biral, made an appearance to explore elements associated with the production side of the recording studio. Based in Los Angeles, the producing duo, who have made music for the video game franchise Grand Theft Auto and Lil Nas X, referred to one of the biggest limitations to how art is being created right now as ideas being able to travel faster in real time. The gear they use is a way to expedite the creative process, by putting both of their minds in the same place with two different keyboards. They put a strong emphasis on music education. All the things they studied have turned into expertise—and people now trust them and listen to the ideas they bring to the table. Studying the music and geeking out has built trust with artists who have very specific reference points. Whether it’s 300 tracks or 20 tracks, knowing when something is done is important: audition 10 different ideas and pick the best one.

Take A Daytrip – Denzel Baptiste and David Biral

Brandon Boyd, frontman of rock band Incubus, showed up to share information about his upcoming solo project Echoes and Cocoons. Boyd talked about how the solo album came about as a result of Covid-19 changing plans for an Incubus summer European tour. The entire album was recorded remotely from Boyd’s home. “Pocket Knife,” the first single, is one of the more accessible tracks, according to Boyd, which speaks to a collective dream state trapped in a dark space—something we can all relate to now that Covid-19 is part of our lives. The singer-songwriter talked about how the song had already been written and just needed the right vehicle and circumstances.

Incubus was formed 30 years ago, back in 1991. Boyd maybe in his 40s, but feels he has more ideas now than when he was younger. He is grateful and humbled to have people’s attention for thousands of concerts and multiple albums. He remembers the circumstances under which Incubus’ hit “Wish You Were Here” was created. It just sort of spilled out of the band during a time of emotional upheaval. Reflecting on the positive impact music has on society, Boyd waxed philosophically “Music appears to be one of the last great unifying technologies and there has never been a more important moment to sing music together—yet the cruel irony is it’s dangerous to get together in large crowds to sing together.” He compared the concert experience to going to church.

Incubus’ frontman Brandon Boyd

Matthias Jabs, guitarist of heavy metal band Scorpions, kicked back for a conversation from Germany. Scorpions’ new album Rock Believer is the 19th studio effort for the band. Jabs discussed the origins of the album, was released late February 2022. Initially, the band tried working via Zoom, a go-to method during lockdowns and quarantines, but that didn’t quite work due to challenges presented by the band being in Germany and a producer based in Los Angeles—so they wound up producing the album themselves. Scorpions found their sound with the album Blackout, which celebrated its 40th anniversary March 2022. Jabs talked about digging out the old amps and recapturing the vintage sound associated with Scorpions during the 1980s, which are heavy on guitar arrangements.

Scorpions’ guitarist Matthias Jabs

The band had to postpone their Las Vegas residency but fans can rejoice knowing that shows are planned for middle of August going into October, in the United States. Jabs reminisced about past NAMM conventions—hanging out with Slash in the Gibson booth. There’s always someone who wants to take a selfie with you, it’s the new autograph. Jabs has had his own guitar shop, since 2007, in Germany—which features vintage guitars and serves as a meeting place. Gene Simmons of KISS, Richie Sambora and Pink have all visited the shop when they’re in Munich and Jabs has acquired lots of good pictures for the walls of the shop. Jabs has been touring for several years with Scorpions and went on to elaborate about the healing power of music and its ability to unify. When Jabs is stressed out, he plays guitar. He added, “music has something that connects people and musicians have something that connects worldwide. Audiences are very friendly when they connect with music—it serves as therapy and has healing qualities.

Rising country star Brittney Spencer, originally from Baltimore, joined the event from Nashville. Spencer talked about the interesting hybrid of sound today that defies categories. Spencer listened to an alternative radio station in her hometown that played Dixie Chicks (now known simply as the Chicks), Journey, Mariah Carey and Taylor Swift. She loved the stories the Chicks were telling. When she found out you can put stories in song form, she sought out CMT and made country music the thing she wanted to do. Spencer listens to Drake, Kacey Musgraves, Doja Cat and Chris Stapleton. Spencer alluded to different music colliding and transforming into something interesting.

Brittney Spencer

Taking the risk to move to Nashville, Spencer has carved out a path for herself. She doesn’t want to chase down numbers and carbon copy things, and sees the industry wanting more innovation at this time. USA Today and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have given her accolades. Spencer believes people should be given opportunity based on the merit of their talent. She found a home in country music to tell her stories. Fans can soon catch her on tour with Reba [McEntire]. After being a quarantine artist, Spencer just wants to hit the road and give so much love to people.

Lola Romero, better known as KeepItOnTheLo, provided some inspiration for those who want to pursue engineering and mixing dreams. Romero’s career path started in engineering school, which led to being hired by Dr. Dre as a runner—ultimately becoming Dre’s chief engineer. Romero’s signature is the speed and attention to detail and how quickly that can be integrated into the mix, while still creating. A female working in a male-dominated industry, she’s empowered a lot of young women to go for their dreams. Romero also knows about the challenges multiple sclerosis presents, as someone who lives with it, but she has conquered those health challenges. Romero, who is a big fan of education, set out to be a really good engineer first but her presence has expanded beyond music, as a character in the video game franchise Grand Theft Auto.

Lola Romero – KeepItOnTheLo

Concerts, depending upon where you are geographically may or may not be taking place, but not to worry—NAMM had things covered with a few special offerings. Canada’s Daring Greatly Band put on a blistering set with high production value. Had you just tuned into their performance, you might think you found a lost Midnight Special from the 1970s. The band has a rock vibe complete with long hair, bell bottoms and pedal steels. The band has an original sound, which merges elements of the Doobie Brothers with the Allman Brothers—and is incredibly tight with a good work ethic. Check out tracks like “Black and White,” and the dreamy number “Leaving.” “Killing Time” will get you into the groove of a Southern soul boogie jam, while “Love Myself Again” swings like a pendulum of a doomed romantic relationship. Keep your eyes on Daring Greatly Band to gain some traction in the near future. Thanks to this virtual event, I can say I saw them when!

Daring Greatly

For me, the defining moment of NAMM’s “Believe In Music” arrived on Thursday evening when Laura B. Whitmore, founder of Women’s International Music Network and host of She Rocks Spotlight Series in Massachusetts, was joined by singer-songwriter Jamie McDell in New Zealand and Grammy Award-winning singer and actress Laura Dreyfuss. It’s a testament to both music and technology that you can have someone in New Zealand, where it’s currently the middle of the summer, interacting with two people experiencing winter on the northern seaboard of the United States—all from the comfort of their respective homes and countries.

McDell, who describes her music as Americana and country—with tales about her family and upbringing, put on a very intimate set. She kicked off with “Botox,” a song stripped back to bare bones with only an acoustic guitar accompanying the emotionally wrought lyrics. McDell’s use of metaphors belies her innocent appearance. “Worst Crime” invokes handcuffs, jail and feeling guilty. “Extraordinary Girl,” written for a friend who was in a very difficult relationship, relies on cars—always good metaphors for relationships because much like relationships they rust and break down. Closing the set with the cathartic family snapshot of “Mother’s Daughter,” McDell, whose new album was released February 2022, might just be this generation’s Rickie Lee Jones.

Jamie McDell & Laura Dreyfuss

Laura Dreyfuss opened up her home in New York for a close and personal performance. She’s acted in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway and appeared on Fox’s  television series Glee. Dreyfuss’ song choices were culled from her debut EP Peaks, which was released this past November. Dreyfuss takes a more playful approach to the things she writes about, even when dealing with serious subject matter. “Nose To Nose” is a song about the love she has for her dog. “Pillow” chronicles her emotional state in the past 18 months and being surrounded by love and giving love in a very difficult time. Backed only by an acoustic guitar on some songs and piano on others, she also sang “Sidelines,” one of the first songs she ever wrote with piano accompaniment. The song has a Broadway show feel with its melody and lyrics which admonish “if you can’t be happy for me, you can watch from the sidelines.” Choosing between dreams and a lover is the thematic element of the defiant “Be Great.” “Peaks and Valleys,” which was recently written but not yet officially released, also made an appearance in the set.

For those who dream of warmer weather and a time when we can all jam together in real life—have faith and patience. NAMM’s next event is scheduled for June in sunny Anaheim, California. NAMM’s virtual event asked us to believe in music—with a resounding, Yes! We trust in the power of music and we are not alone—thanks to the efforts of NAMM.

— by Rodeo Marie Hanson

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