Shing02's NAMM 2010 report (Video Version)
The winter NAMM is an international music products event held annually at the Anaheim Convention Center. The event showcases thousands of exhibitors featuring new instruments and gadgets. Although it is not open to the general public without invitation, tens of thousands gather from all over the world every January to check out the latest trends. Basically, the four-day experience is Guitar Center on 'roids, or, to be more appropriate, a Disneyland for music geeks (coincidentally, the real Disneyland is right across the street from the convention center).
I've been coming to the NAMM show for over ten years, both as an exhibitor (for Vestax) and as an attendee. Surely the main attractions are the new products by your favorite brands. You can forecast trends before they happen, as most exhibitors debut product lines at the show, and engineers on-site are eager to hear critical feedback from musicians. It's quite impressive when you observe the long process of how products are conceived, designed, and manufactured from innovative ideas. Equally motivational as far as getting people to show up at the trade show is the camaraderie factor. In this open and crazy atmosphere, you bump into many DJs and producers, so you can chop it up with them and trade contacts. Sometimes mega-stars (Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Bootsy Collins, Snoop Dogg, to name a few) come around and show face as well.
OK, back to the DJ scene. This year, I sensed the digital controllers officially taking over the mass DJ market. Turntable sales have dropped sharply over the past years, Technics have reportedly stopped producing 1200's: (and Vestax is producing limited numbers of PDXs). That's why I appreciate how Serato has kept the turntable alive as a control surface, and with its software improving every year, it's a perfect blend of digital and analog technology.
I remember around 2003, Serato, a small company from New Zealand, had a booth all the way in the back by the lighting and smoking section, and we were like, "yeah, good luck." This is back when break records dominated the scratch scene, shiny Technics and Pioneer CDJs just debuted (albeit with skepticism), and the DJ software market was locked down by Final Scratch. Boy oh boy, times have changed. With the proliferation of high-spec MacBooks, now Serato and Rane are leading the game by example (followed by Native Intsruments' Traktor). Since Ableton LIVE seems to be the main choice of weapon for performing musicians, Serato working seamlessly with Ableton provides a load of new possibilities. Below is a good video demo from NAMM of The Bridge. via Rock oN.
The Bridge: Serato + Ableton LIVE (NAMM 2010)
New DJs coming into the game aren't buying a set of two turntables and a mixer anymore. Instead they opt for a USB controller (like the Vestax VCI-300 with Serato Itch) to control their iTunes playlist on a laptop they probably already own. With built-in effects and versatile on-the-fly programming, digital DJing is as easy as ever. Some genres work perfectly this way, and especially if you produce your own material, the orchestra is at your finger tips.
Most professional DJs will keep using real turntables and mixers to get the best "feel" and "touch" possible, like any other instrument. Despite significant advantages, digital controllers still have a long way to go to duplicate the feel of a moving platter and a tested crossfader (Numark V7 has the rotating surface). I liked the Inno-Fader booth because they're still passionate about improving on the fader design, using expensive polished-steel as the railing.
The DJ and electronic market changes seasonally and collaborations and competitions play out like musical chairs. I agree the digital integration has helped DJs and producers work more efficiently, but a lot of old-school art and philosophy have been lost in the quicksand. As users, it is very important to express what we want, so the companies don't simply take a guess on what will sell the most that year. Over in the next building at NAMM, there's an ocean of electric guitars on exhibit, tens of thousands crowding to try them out. For some odd reason, that's always a comforting scene to me, every year walking through that gate of happy chaos.