Though success in any industry involves an ability to network, it is especially critical in the entertainment business. That is why, every year, AU takes a small group of students to California for the annual National Association of Music Merchants, or NAMM, conference to meet industry professionals and gain insight into what is next for their field.
The NAMM show floor offers students unique opportunities to meet the names behind some of music’s most important record labels, instrument brands, marketing firms and more. Though the focus of the conference is on the music industry, student participation is not limited to music business majors.
Marketing major Krista Baker, who wants to work as a promoter, specifically for music venues and other artist resources, found that the variety of speakers, products and informational sessions showed how people from all backgrounds can unite around music.
“Everyone I met at NAMM was special,” Baker said. “Everyone had his or her own story to share with me, and it was a pleasure interacting and networking with so many wonderful people. It’s such an amazing sensation, being surrounded by thousands of people who share the same passion as you—truly inspiring. Music is the language of the world—and there were people from all over at NAMM. But where you’re from didn’t matter because we all shared this passion and love. We all were encouraging one another.”
Some students, like national security and Spanish double-major Phoebe Mangas, are studying for a field largely separate from music business, but decided to spend the time and the money to go simply because music is important to them.
“I surround myself [with music] and every space I have is filled with music,” Mangas said. “I just decided it was time to recognize that I was doing what I loved and to go after it.” Besides the show-wide opportunities to attend concerts and talks by Stevie Wonder, John Mayer and others, Mangas had the opportunity to meet artists such as Walk the Moon and Juanes.
Mangas “didn’t go in with huge expectations,” due to her status as a student with few connections, but found that many professionals were more than willing to rub shoulders with students, particularly if you caught them in the Starbucks line.
“There were businesses that didn’t look past the student badge, and there were people who had worked with some of the best that gave me solid half hours of conversation and a way to contact them,” Mangas said. “The key I found was to talk to people when they were experiencing a lull in order to establish a good conversation that could lead to relationship—or just sit at Starbucks.”
In the same way, Baker found that the conference, though important and insightful, was often simply an effective backdrop for developing important connections and learning experiences off of the show floor.
“My favorite part about NAMM were the experiences that happened outside the convention,” Baker said. “We were blessed to have dinner with executives from a record label stationed in California, and the insights they gave us about the music industry were spectacular. Waiting in line at Starbucks was where most of my favorite conversations happened.”
Though NAMM gets a good deal of attention because of its headlining popular artists or instrument distributors, some students were able to make contact with artists and others who were smaller but held a personal connection to them. Music business major Jack Crane met with musicians from bands that may not be widely known by the average person, such as Polyphia and The World Alive, but are people whose work he admires. Crane particularly enjoyed the chance to demo cutting-edge technology not yet available to the public, like electric stand-up basses.
“They weren’t necessarily something I would buy, but it was super cool to be able to get my hands on those kind of products that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” Crane said.
Studying in a field for enough time can drain one of their passion for it, but Crane felt that NAMM has given him greater drive to work harder and a renewed love for the industry.
“It got me super excited about it,” Crane said. “Everything about the industry has this creative and youthful energy. It also lit a fire under me to really hone my craft. It’s absolutely incredible how talented some people are. It makes you want to practice eight hours a day to be able to even compete with some of those guys.”
“The industry is honestly a lot smaller than you think,” Crane said. “It seems like if you know the right 10 people, you know everyone. It’s crazy how many people are friends or friends of friends of people in the industry.”