It’s 5:15 pm—less than an hour before the lights will be shut down throughout the massive Anaheim Convention Center—when from the shuffling, badge-donning crowd of convention visitors emerges Laura Jaramillo, quickly snapping apart the locks on her electric guitar’s case and tossing the instrument over her shoulders.
Julie Slick and Shauney Baby Recke, the bassist and drummer who had been recruited earlier in the day, had been standing on alert by the towering glass case nearby and now headed inside, where GoPro staff began strapping their tiny signature video cameras to the musicians’ instruments and—in Recke’s case—torso. It was the third day of the 112th annual NAMM convention, and we were teaming up with Tom Tom to bring visitors a whole new kind of music experience.
NAMM is the colossal business buffet of the music industry. For four days, three floors of the largest exhibit space on the West Coast gets packed wall to wall with a grid of exhibits representing nearly every music product retailer, through which a river of nearly 100,000 distributors, performers, gear enthusiasts, and industry leaders continuously flow. For She Shreds, the convention isn’t just a showcase of new music technology and craftsmanship; it’s an opportunity for us to really feel the pulse of the music industry. We already know that women’s representation in the industry (and consequently NAMM) sucks, frankly. But here are four things we saw at this year’s show that didn’t remind us of the Stone Age:
1. Women featured as legitimate instrumentalists in advertisements at more companies’ booths.
We can’t believe this is a big deal in 2014. But it is. From huge instrument manufacturers Fender and Peavey to string companies Elixir and DR to smaller boutique businesses like Loog and U-Bass, the companies at this year’s NAMM appeared to have somewhat expanded their horizons when it came to who they thought could represent their products.
2. Fewer companies resorting to grimy tactics
Old trade show strategies include trying to bait assumably straight, male gear heads with female models before actual company representatives step in to talk shop. From the looks of this year’s convention, the practice is heading towards long-deserved obsoletism as an increased focus on the actual product and a consequential decreased emphasis on completely irrelevant and embarrassing baiting techniques sets in.
3. More women demonstrating gear on behalf of companies
Not only was there a noteworthy decline in gross visuals at this year’s NAMM, there also appeared to be more actual women musicians hired to represent companies by performing with their products. We spotted the Iron Maidens on Peavey’s stage, London bassist Yolanda Charles at Elixir, industry veteran Jane Getter at GHS Strings, acoustic virtuoso Vicki Genfan at (we kid you not) Dean Guitars, and—probably our favorite discovery this year—Colombian shredder Laura Jaramillo at Gruv Gear. And those are just a few examples.
4. Female executives and experts on the floor
We were stoked to talk shop with 30-year superstar pickup winder Maricela Juarez and Gretsch’s CFO Dinah Gretsch at their companies’ respective booths. Both of these women being honored at the convention’s second annual She Rocks Awards may have played a role. Stay tuned for full-length interviews with these industry vets.
Once again, NAMM gave us the ability to definitively point at what we all sort of know: that there’s a long way to go for equity in the music industry, but that things really are improving. And until the industry reflects the multiplicity of talent that people of all kinds possess, we’ll keep pushing them in the right direction. It’s why we not only report on high-profile women who have made it in the music industry but also create platforms like Shred Fest and She Shreds Sessions to elevate those who deserve a spotlight. So as day three of the NAMM show wound down, we couldn’t resist creating a little spectacle of our own: a collaborative She Shreds/Tom Tom GoPro shred session featuring three killer musicians we’d recruited from their booths throughout the day. Watch the video below.