On a dark, cold and snowy Michigan morning at 5am on Tuesday January 22nd Haggis, my partner in crime in MerchLive, has just arrived at my house. The plan? Adding too many copies of MerchLive Backstage Pass Magazine to our luggage as we prepare to head to the airport and fly to Anaheim, CA for a week… For our first time at NAMM (the National Association of Music Merchants) to cover the event for the magazine.

First airport and we hit several weather delays and then a cancellation for our flight. Instead of our connecting flight to Chicago, we got to go to New Jersey (several states in the wrong direction) and arrive to Newark, NJ at 4am as this was the only option to ensure getting to NAMM on Wednesday before noon. After being up roughly 24hrs with little food and listening to Haggis furiously debate for almost 2 hours with a csr about our car rental, we slept for an hour and a half and back to the airport to board another plane at 7 something (my mind was pretty blurry by this point) and get to CA.

Ahhhh… California. Palm trees, sun and most importantly no snow. It is Wednesday morning and we checked in at the hotel, grabbed some Taco Bell, for which we got yelled at by everyone. “How could you come to California and not get authentic Mexican food?!?”. Then, finally off to NAMM for the media check in and preview day. We were warned that it would be overwhelming. That there is so much to see, so much to learn. Never having been to an event of this magnitude, I was skeptical. And very wrong with my skepticism. Yes, the warnings are TRUE.

It IS in fact overwhelming. It seems that every brand of musical gear of every style of music is represented. You’re a rock musician so you’re thinking guitar and bass gear, drums, pa. Yup. Now switch to a jazz band backed w an orchestra. Still covered. Manufacturers of horns and wind instruments, percussion instruments I wasn’t even aware existed, fog machines, and light rigs. Seriously ANYTHING you can think of musically or show wise is represented by manufacturers from across the globe, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Preview Day. We walked onto the main floor of the colossal Anaheim Convention Center and a calm feeling of accomplishment washed over me as it went through my mind that we were really here, covering NAMM for a magazine that we started less than a year ago. Anyway, the booths were still being set up and how exciting it was to watch the crews hoist up giant logos from Ibanez, EMG, and Mackie to be mounted on display walls.

To see gear laying EVERYWHERE waiting to be moved into place. We needed to find SIT Strings, and Hartke first as they both had ads and would allow magazines at their booths. Already so many people and so much movement but this was just the beginning. Just the set-up crews. These few hours spent helped to get our bearings for the days to come when the show is open.

Preview time ended late afternoon, which gave us time to look at the floor plans of exhibitors and the education schedule to devise a plan for the upcoming week.

Did I say education schedule? Should have said something more like Phenomenal Knowledge Talks. Panels of experts in every field of music speaking all day on what seemed like every topic you can imagine. From marketing music programs in schools to making money in the music business directed at bands.

Thursday morning and we found ourselves running from area to area in an attempt to make it to the next presentation. That was the only drawback. There was so much high quality education going on that it required a lot of space and was spread out across a vast multi floor section of the enormous Hilton Hotel.

One of my absolute favorite talks of the event was from Victor Wooten. Wow. For the eight people that don’t know who he is: Winner of FIVE Grammy Awards, has been the bass player for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones since the group’s inception in ’88, record producer, educator, you get the idea. Just thinking of the passion in his voice still gives me a little bit of chills.

Saying “The goal is not to play an instrument, but to play music”, and “To be so comfortable I can forget the instrument’s there”.

Phrases like these got me. He spoke of his early beginnings and how music helped him through life. What a truly inspirational speaker. If you ever get the chance to hear him play or speak about playing, please go.

And then we were running to find our partner David Ellefson.

Chasing David proved to be tricky as he was whisked from one signing to the next with barely a moment for him to breath. Being literally a legend, his schedule is ridiculously fast paced, packed to the minute, and then he had to go to the next signing. We did meet up with David and our fourth partner Thom Hazaert at the SIT Strings booth for the metal signing that MerchLive Backstage Pass co-sponsored featuring David Ellefson (Megadeth), Mike Spreitzer and Ashes (DevilDriver), Wayne Lozinak (Hatebreed), Meegs Rascon (Coal Chamber, Gemini Syndrome), the list continued for a while. Tim Pfouts at SIT Strings was amazingly helpful and is the reason for our involvement with their Metal Signing. THANK YOU Tim and your team for including us in such a memorable event.

While we were at the booth Shaunna Heth (our Creative Director) arrived with the new Winter issue featuring Altitudes and Attitude on the cover just in time, fresh from the presses (okay they shipped to Shaunna in CA. Whatever ; ) Now we were off to take magazines to the Hartke booth and meet our contact Ira Cary Blanco there. He is in marketing and communications and it shows. Yet another person at the top level who was incredibly accommodating and couldn’t have been nicer. He even let us store a box of magazines in the Hartke booth closet… Next to Victor Wooten’s bass. Ironic. After Haggis seeing me fall all over myself at the metal signing it was fun to watch him do the same at the Victor Wooten signing at the Hartke booth. Haggis is a bass player and is the reason we went to Victor’s talk earlier (glad we went).

Following the rush that was our Thursday morning, we were now free to explore NAMM exhibitors for the afternoon. We began with guitar and bass gear as that is my familiar territory. Endless effects pedals & processors as well as guitars & basses were everywhere towards the front of the venue. As you go a little deeper amps and components, cabinets, cables and then into the widest assortment of drum equipment I have ever witnessed in one place. Absolutely astonishing. The exhibitor floor is like the World’s largest musical equipment store and it’s full of industry professionals from 30 year veteran multi million dollar artists to top level Grammy Award winning producers.

Also goes fully into the other realms of music with education as buyers from all walks of life in every musical business are also present and it all felt like home. This experience seemed almost magical as I have never witnessed this many happy smiling friendly people at an event.

Thursday evening brought on some of the night life surrounding such a monumental event. Headed to deliver some RIP shirts to “The Buschman” Chris Bush (owner of the RIP Brand) then off to the House of Blues to see David do his day job away from MerchLive (Lol) and play in Metal Allegiance. Holy All Star show spiked with some of my personal favs. Being a 90’s kid and loving metal guitar players Alex Skolnick of Testament playing most of the show was a treat indeed.

David played a majority as well as Mark Menghi, and Mike Portnoy (those 4 comprise Metal Allegiance). Then there were different songs with different members and the lineup also included Andreas Kisser (Sepultura), Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), Chuck Billy (Testament), Phil Demmel (Machinehead) and on and on. Kind of a who’s who in metal and a show that has etched a forever memory in my mind. As Thursday came to a close it was very easy to fall asleep from some exhaustion but still having the excitement of a little kid on Christmas Eve.

Up early for free breakfast at the hotel and off to the convention center for some more education. Then on to see how far we could get through the exhibitor floor on this gorgeous sunny Friday morning. Making Money Making Music was the standout talk for me that day as the panel shared priceless knowledge my band would have LOVED to have had back in the day. Now, we can share the information through MerchLive Backstage Pass Magazine. Tips like keeping an instrumental version of your songs handy for use in TV or film. Song placement in a TV show can earn up to $5000. Create 30 and or 60 second clips of your music for commercial use. Build a team of people that are good at the things you are not good at. So many more tips that you will see in these pages and on

Back to the exhibitors after lunch and by the way we haven’t made it through the whole building yet.

Thursday, we saw MOST of the main floor.

Friday and we began to explore other floors where Gibson, Jackson, and Fender Guitars all had their own rooms and some of their fun was roped off to those without invitation.

We also got to meet up with Christina Godepski (another wonderful person in these upper leagues) at Schecter Guitar Research and secured our tickets from Schecter for their party Saturday night with Body Count. The time has been flying by as we see booth after booth of innovative new products and all of our old favorites.

As we walked through the booths it occurred to me just how many different aspects of the “Music Business” there are, and labels aren’t even allowed to have

booths. This is manufacturer heaven. And then the expo was coming to a close for the day. Into the evening and we met up with Shaunna and Skum Love at the Juke Joint for some local bands in a packed house that Skum and local personality Jes Fama were hosting. Passed out a ton of magazines on the area and then back to the hotel to sleep.

So far, this event has gotten busier and busier each day and it’s rumored to be really packed today on Saturday. Moving through the floor was easily done even as the people volume increased. Adequate 10 foot wide walkways were prepared for the Saturday foot traffic. Huh. Almost like they’ve done this before. Like, since 1901 so they have everything figured out. Things for the event were beyond clockwork, every staff member we encountered was courteous, smiling and enjoyed what they were doing. Such a pleasure to be covering an expo that is just as much of an event. At this point, simply trying to see all of the exhibits as a goal was becoming a daunting task that may not see completion. Between catching educational seminars, talks, and panels and going back and forth between the exhibits and education, the day moves into a blur and we needed to go blow off some steam.

Saturday night brings on the Schecter Guitar Research 17th Annual Party featuring Body Count. This was a benefit for Take Me Home Rescue, so it was a great cause and an amazing time. Noah “Shark” Robertson (Nothing, Motograter) went with us so we got some comic relief.

Got to meet Dino Cezares (from Fear Factory fame) and talk with Meegs Rascon. Also, met up with Russell Ray (one of our journalists) and his band Vyces.

Then Body Count played… Ice T and his boys still have it. What a show. Flawless performance and an incredible night.

One more day… We woke up late and seemed tired for some reason. Lol. It was Sunday after all. Got to the convention center and talked with exhibitor after exhibitor. Everyone we asked said the event was a great time and they plan to be back next year.

It is no wonder this has become such a gigantic event when it gains new exhibitors each year and most of the previous year comes back. It also shows that they are doing it right and providing a service of immeasurable value…. And a FUN time!

We finished out the trip with a quick drive around Anaheim to take some pics, then back to the hotel to close up shop and fly out in the morning back to the icy tundra of Michigan. Thank you for allowing MerchLive Backstage Pass Magazine the extreme honor of covering NAMM 2019 and we would love to be back next year.