Whether this is your first time at Winter NAMM or you've been going for some time, here are a few things keep in mind while you're there.
Zero In On What You Need To See And Go There First - If you've seen a product announcement in a magazine that you'd like to check out, go to that booth first before you look at anything else. NAMM is large enough and spread out enough that it's very easy to get sidetracked and never see that item or not be able to spend enough time checking it out when you do find it.
Look For Trends - Sometimes it's best to breeze through a particular hall without stopping at any of the booths, just to get a feel for a trend that might be happening. Maybe you'll notice that a lot of manufacturers are offering guitars that spew white foam this year. After you notice the trend, it's good to circle back and get the story from each manufacturer as to how that model came about. That way, you can find out who has the best foam, who came up with the idea and who's a copycat, the technical differences between manufacturers, and get a better idea about retail pricing.
Listen To The Buzz - It's easy to be overwhelmed at the show. There are so many manufacturers and so many new products that it all becomes a blur after a while. That's why it's best to start asking people that you meet, "What did you see that you liked?" or "What's the coolest thing at the show?" You might find out about the latest thing that you would've never checked out otherwise.
Don't Waste Your Time With The Majors - The major manufacturers (Yamaha, Roland, Fender, etc.) have huge booths that can soak up your time with little to show for it. Each major will have dozens of new products, most of which are a slight evolution from last year's model. If you haven't heard the buzz on a new product from a major, it's best to find someone who works for the company at the booth and ask, "What's the coolest new thing that you're showing?" That way, you'll spend a lot less time seeing things that aren't especially groundbreaking, so you'll have a lot more time to find the things that actually are.
Check Out "Inventors Row" - One of the most overlooked areas at Winter NAMM is "inventors row" down in the basement. These are mostly small manufacturers that may be at NAMM for the first time, but if you're going to see anything that will make you say, "That's a good idea," this is where you'll find it. Inevitably when I get together with my show compatriots, this is the area we discuss the most.
Stay Away On Saturday - Saturday might be the most fun if you've never been to NAMM before, but then again, it might not. Saturday is the most crowded day of the show, has the most gate crashers (people who don't work for a retailer or manufacturer and technically aren't supposed to be there), has the most celebs (their demos have huge crowds that have a waiting line), and is the hardest to get anything accomplished. If you want to speak with the manufacturers, play with some gear, attend some demos, and not get jostled around by the crowds, try any one of the other days instead.
Have fun, and maybe I'll see you there!