It’s January 19th. It’s 65º and sunny and I’m standing in line with a few thousand other musicians. Ah, Anaheim. Time for the annual ritual known as NAMM.
This year’s show drew 95,000 attendees and more than 1,400 exhibitors. Amidst the sore feet, schlepped shoulder bags, and (too tight) spandex on some of the aging rock stars in attendance, it’s a heck of a party and a real look ahead at what music products will be making waves in the coming year. So what products caught my ears and eyes at this year’s NAMM?
I’ll start with what might be the first real “killer app” for the artist intent on building his or her career. It’s called Artist Growth, and it leverages the power of cloud-based computing with a well-designed interface. The app works on an iPad, iPhone, or Android mobile device to put a full range of tools and systems at your control to help you manage and grow the business aspects of your music career.
The company’s slogan, “Artist Development in the hands of the artist,” nicely sums up the design philosophy behind this system. I spent about 30 minutes with the company’s co-founders, Matt Umry and Jonathan Sexton and Marketing Director Jacob Jones. In five minutes, they explained the functions and features of the app to me, and it seemed clear that Artist Growth could be a real game changer for an independent artist sustaining his or her own career.
When you launch the app, Artist Growth’s green globe logo is surrounded by six icons, each of which links to a set of data that become operational once you register and start your account. Populating your system is straightforward. Enter data for all your upcoming gigs, upload your songs, input your merch and product inventory items and how many of each you currently have in stock, link to your social media pages, and you’re up and running.
One of the features of Artist Growth is their Action Packs – pre-made “to do” lists for each gig. The Action Pack will populate your calendar with reminders to notify media in the region and confirm logistics for each show using a template provided in the system, which you can edit or adjust it to suit your needs. The night of the gig, simply tap the icon for each item you sell at your merch table and inventory counts are reduced and income is added to your revenue spreadsheet. At the end of the night you can input your gig fees and have them show up in your overall tour budget.
If you are registered with ASCAP or BMI, send venue and set list data to them for public performance royalty calculations. On the road, the app helps you keep track of your expenses (gas, strings, hotel, road tolls, etc.). Instead of keeping a mountain of paper receipts, simply take a picture of each, and Artist Growth will store it for retrieval and later input into your expense spreadsheet.
The “Industry Search” tool links to the database of The Indie Bible. Tap on the Industry Search tool, and up comes the database, where you can easily access Venues and Press and Radio contacts to help promote your upcoming shows, send push notices, or simply find the address or phone number of a venue where you’d like to drop a promo pack.
Artist Growth automatically syncs to all your mobile devices and is accessible anywhere with internet access. Managing your own business and promotion will be a whole lot easier with this app. Bottom line, if you are an artist that is regularly gigging and actively building a following, the $4.99 cost per month for Artist Growth is a steal. You can even test it out for one month for 99¢.
Hall E is my favorite NAMM hall. It’s the one where the newest companies usually exhibit, since it’s basically in a basement, far from the main traffic areas up at ground level. As I wandered around the hall, I heard this rich, thick, luxurious chordal texture that wasn’t a guitar, harp, or autoharp. What the heck was it?
I followed my ears over to a man playing what looked like a snowboard with strings and met Tim Meeks, President of Marcodi Musical Products and the inventor of the harpejji. The harpejji is an instrument, which like the famed Chapman Stick, is played by tapping. It has 24 strings, 16 treble and 8 bass. Guitarists or pianists can quickly adapt to the harpejji, as the layout of the strings is easy to understand.
Like a piano keyboard, Tim designed the harpejji with white and black markers so you can see the 12 chromatic notes that make up each of its five octaves. A diamond marker identifies every C note. For me, a lifelong guitarist, I found the sounds and tactile nature of being able to use all ten fingers to tap, slide, bend and make chords an exciting and innovative reason to consider adding a harpejji to my musical palette.
Check out Marcodi’s YouTube channel for a number of quick demos, some of them with Jordan Rudess, keyboard player for Dream Theater, and also to see the harpejji played by composer A.R. Rahman accompanying Dido for the song, “If I Rise.” The K24 retails for $3,999, while its little brother, the G16, which has 16 strings, sells for $1,999.
The Delay Llama
My third and final “must have” product from Day One is a stomp box called the Delay Llama, a full featured analog delay pedal that takes you right back to the early 1980s, with its bucket-brigade delay circuits and warm sound that provides up to 600 ms of delay. The Delay Llama is the spawn of Jam Labs, based in Athens, Greece, dedicated to building high-quality, vintage-inspired pedals to provide guitarists with unique sound tools. Jam Labsis one of a new breed of pedal manufacturers that are pushing the boundaries of the sector by re-engineering the classic pedals and circuits found in rare or unattainable pedals from 40 years ago.
Among their assortment of pedals is the Rooster, a treble booster based on the classic Dallas Rangemaster, made famous by Brian May (Queen), Rory Gallagher, and Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath). There’s also the Fuzz Phrase, inspired by the classic Fuzz Face but with New Old Stock (NOS) germanium transistors. You’ll be channeling Jimi with this one! The Delay Llama was my pick though, as it really delivered the warm, full tone that I prefer. Just out is the Delay Llama Plus which adds a hold switch, so if you have an expression pedal, you can continuously alter the delay time as you continue to jam. Highly recommended with a retail price of $355 for the Plus model and $285 for the standard.
Wrapping up my first day at the show, I got a tap on the shoulder from a large, serious-looking man asking me to step aside politely in one of the most crowded aisles of the main hall. I complied and watched Stevie Wonder pass me by, another one of us there to learn, be awed and enjoy the nearly endless creativity that the NAMM instrument inventors share with us each year. More notes soon from the next two days at NAMM.