Scott Hull at NAMM 2013

Back in NYC — I sure didn’t miss the weather. But the sad part was it was sucky LA weather too for the 2013 NAMM show. Now I have to admit — this was my first NAMM show and so I may make it sound a little unbelievable. But it WAS!

If your life has to do with music — then there were a bunch of people there you needed to meet. Guitars — sure, tens of thousands — but how about a bass ukelele with plastic strings and pickups being played in a prog rock fusion band? Trust me, it didn’t sound anything like a uke.

There were spectacles and impressive chops everywhere.

Photo of guitars at NAMM by Christopher Schirner

So what’s new? Everything! The music business is doing great. Everyone is full of enthusiasm and energy. New products were all over the place. Mics, pedals, amps, lights, software, brass, pianos, strings, you name it — I was blown away.

The attendance was off the charts — four giant halls, up stairs and down, demo rooms in all the neighboring hotels. And my feet complained about the schedule.

My top picks? Well, advancements at Avid and Universal Audio drew big crowds and had everyone’s attention. There was high tech and low tech. I met Bob Elliot, the guy who invented the Guitar Dock. Every guitarist and studio owner needs at least 5 of these nifty guitar neck holders to prevent drops in the studio and on stage. It mounts to anything! Hi tech wireless and DSP-controlled everything. You want fries with that?

Us pro audio/record industry folks have been prone to singing the same song recently… The good ol’ days of pro audio… When the work was lined up around the block… Budgets were bigger… More records we’re made… But something clicked for me. Its a mad mad mad mad music world out there and there are tons of things to be excited about — new opportunities — new tech — old tech — 192k 64 bit and vacuum tube ‘phone preamps… Pick your passion and go for it!

But the artists themselves became the show on Saturday. Impromptu jams in every isle. An electric bass soloist at a bass guitar booth had 50 people stopped in their tracks — with iPhones recording… Stevie Wonder was spotted… Trumpet wizards showing off what they could do in the brass isle… And a Mexican trumpet band a la Herb Alpert serenaded a birthday celebration in the Selmer/Bach booth with a hundred onlookers.

Way too much to see and HEAR. Exhausting… Next year I’ll have a plan… And maybe a Hoveround.

Fill out my online form.

LAMC: Music Industry Tips #3

Tip #3: The best idea is going to come from a 15-year old.

Toy Hernandez, producer for the latest hit machine out of Monterrey, Mexico 3BallMTY (Tribal Monterrey), and Sebastian Krys, producer for La Santa Cecilia, Kinky, Shakira and various other Grammy winning artists, talked about being a producer of a certain age and experience at LAMC in NYC in July.

Krys said, as a producer, “you have to stay on top of the game, and the way that you do that is by accepting that the best idea is going to come from a 15-year old, it’s not going to come from you and your experience.” 

This may be hard to accept, but it’s true.  You should recognize that new ideas drive the industry and that your contribution is to refine them and get the most out of them.  “Those days are gone, my friend,” he said, and then roused the audience by calling for artists to make up their own formats, song lengths and album lengths, which earned him a few minutes of applause and approving heckles.  If you are moved to create something, he urged, don’t let the form hem you in.  

LAMC: A Saintly Performance from La Santa Cecilia

The 13th annual Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC) in NYC started off with spunk and spirit at the Mercury Lounge Showcase where artists sang to a mostly packed and enthusiastic audience.  The MC gave away free T-shirts and microphones from sponsors, while concert goers and artists alike mingled and danced to what turned out to be a very 1980s inspired evening.  Latin Alternative music isn’t a genre per se, but a gang of varying popular genres from Spanish or Spanglish hip hop and synth-pop to rock infused rancheras, boleros, bossas and cumbias.  Nacional Records, headed by Tomas Cookman and Josh Norek, is the hosting motor behind the festival, curating the showcases and panels and fostering relationships with domestic artists and those across the border and beyond.

The sparky “CubaRican” songstress Xenia Rubinos kicked things off with broad and high reaching vocals in a Dirty Projector style delivery that sputtered and stalled like a video game complete with false endings toppling artfully into scat singing to match up with keyboard strokes on “Cherry Tree.” 

Miami hip hop ensemble ArtOfficial featured vigorous sax solos from Keith Cooper that, like fireworks, outshone the innocuous urban rhymed lyrics of the songs. 

Alex Anwandter brought his Brit-synthy-electro-dance-pop vogue moves to the party, all the way from Santiago, Chile, basking in the glory of his local fans eager to get down to his latest hit “¿Cómo puedes vivir contigo mismo?”  (“How Can You Live With Yourself”).

Uruguayan electro-cumbia song and beat-maker Martin Buscaglia came on stage accompanied by his loop pedals and guitar to slow the party down by a few BPM and deliver fervent and impassioned songs of love and intrigue, which were more of a sound-art piece than a musical set.

The mood shifted slightly when Monica Lionheart took the stage, still intoning a 1980s synth-pop feel but with understated vocals to counteract her overstated hair, and a haunting bilingual set of harmonies and dynamics to pull us close. 

And although La Santa Cecilia stole the show for me, Gepe came in a close second, performing solo like a Chinchinero, a Chilean street performing one-man-band, instrumentally adept and completely focused on words of longing that in “Alfabeto” matched perfectly the charango opening and quena flute close. Many of his songs are influenced by traditional Andean instruments and rhythms from the 1960s and 1970s that he fuses together with a pop ballad sentiment.

The band I was there to see didn’t appear until almost 1:00 am, but it was well worth the wait. La Santa Cecilia was effervescent, joyful and celebratory in its performance with two different accordions, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, percussion, drums and bass. The singer, Marisoul Lead, took over the stage with her broad smile, vintage cat eye glasses and colorful fashion palate, and her voice has that classic sound like Etta James or Sarah Vaughan that you instantly trust and recognize for what it is: naturally free. The band played cumbias, boleros, Rancheras, Afro-Cuban numbers mixed with rock and they even played their own version of “Tainted Love,” the song made famous by Brit synth-pop duo Soft Cell in 1981. 

Maybe it’s because I grew up in LA listening to that song, or maybe it’s because I’m a product of the New Wave era, but La Santa Cecilia’s combination of Spanish and English lyrics mixed with the Mexican American instrumentation and dance energy topped my chart for the night, the only band to play a begged-for encore. Check out their Grammy-nominated song and video “La Negra” produced by the multi-Grammy and Latin Grammy winning producer Sebastian Krys.