It's the ComicCon for musicians. Or something like that.
by Loren A. Roberts (guru of multi-hyphenate media)
Every January, thousands of music store owners (Guitar Center, Sam Ash, your local independent music store) travel to the Anaheim Convention Center (in the shadow of the Disneyland resort) to check out all the newest wares of the music manufacturers. JBL. QSC. Crown. Fender. Taylor Guitars. Paiste Cymbals. Just about every brand is represented: musical instruments, computer programs, lighting, deejay equipment, sound equipment, etc. etc. ... an orgy of gear for the retailers to check out and (hopefully) start stocking in their local stores.
This year I went with some friends, and had a blast checking out products from all over the world. Snap judgments:
- China has decided that we like cheap lighting equipment. They are flooding the market with all sorts of lights (think overachieving DJ).
- The change in sound reinforcement equipment over the last few years has been dramatic. They are making lighter-weight speakers, and that means us touring/gigging people are going to pull muscles a lot less. Yay!
- Music manufacturers believe that we are out of the recession/depression, and are therefore building some new and crazy/outlandish/expensive instruments for us to buy (I guess that's nothing new).
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS
For us musical theatre/performer/composer people, NAMM isn't directly applicable, but there is still plenty of stuff to drool over:
Sievers Flat Panel Speakers -- Not cheap, but think about lugging these into a theater. Lighter weight, no feedback due to the new Distributed Mode Loudspeaker technology, and a smaller footprint onstage or flown in the rigging. Awesome. And I sat at a concert and listened to these for a few hours (the 2013 Bass Bash), and they sounded absolutely wonderful.
For us guitarists out there, try fiddling with the knobs on one of your stompboxes in the middle of a show -- impossible! Well these guys figured out a way: yank off the knob, and add a big plastic thingee (and you can get ones that glow in the dark too!), and all of a sudden, you can mod your effects mid-song without stooping to the ground to mess with the buttons. Genius!
My guitars get banged up -- especially by belt buckles and such -- while I'm out gigging. But what if you could cover the back of your guitar with an industrial-strength version of the protector plastic we all put on our iPhones? Well, Guitar Defender does exactly that, and it works as good as it sounds.
Having a hard time writing your next tune? Roll the dice! Chord Dice, that is. Then line up all the dice of the same color, and you have a wonderfully inventive chord progression. It might not be the way the Beatles did it, but sometimes you need creative ways to break writer's block.
For those gigs when you absolutely have to sing (but shouldn't), there's MatTea. It tastes almost exactly like a spicy version of the tea/lemon/honey concoction I used to make in high school, so I guess that's good. I can't speak to whether it will work wonders for your voice, but lots of people swear by it now.
Lighting has taken a drastic turn for the smaller and cooler with LED lights. These Blizzard Lighting "Puck" PAR lights are only one of several versions that different companies have come up with. And some of them are truly bright enough (and cheap enough) to work perfectly in a small theater. And speaking of cool lights, LEDs can now be sewn into drapery, or put on tiny strips that can be hidden in sets, or 1001 other ways to use LEDs.
The Vienna Symphonic Library is pricey, but they have some of the best samples for creating your own orchestral score to back up that new opera you are writing. They were showing off their new Vienna Dimension Strings Section at NAMM, and it sounded fantastic.
Finally, for the touring company that wants (and can afford) everything,
Coast to Coast Coach has a tour bus that will make you feel like a millionaire (actually, you'll need to be one already in order to get this baby). Comfortably sleeps nine (9!) people, with enough room for a kitchen, bathroom, dining room, and reading room as well. Each bunk bed has its own little fold-out LCD television, so if you need to get away from your castmates/bandmates, just climb into your bunk and shut the world out. It's still a tour bus, but hey! You're traveling in style.
There was so much more: microphones, wireless in-ear monitor systems (expensive!), more sound reinforcement solutions, guitars, drums of all shapes, sizes, and colors, etc. etc. -- but we'll leave the rest for next year's NAMM wrap-up.
LOREN A. ROBERTS produces films, videos and music, designs magazines and logos, plays and sings in a rock-and-roll tribute band, and is a student of what happens when science and technology and the arts and culture collide. www.hearkencreative.com
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