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With the dust just settling from his criticism of the Pet Shop Boys, MT's fearless editor sets his sights elsewhere. The postman has put in for danger money...

WHAT'S THE POINT of a trade show? At this time of year everybody concerned with the Winter NAMM Show and the Frankfurt Musik Messe is certainly too busy to be considering the question. Apart from the sheer hard work of attending a show of this type in any capacity, there's too much of a good time to be had: almost everybody is visiting and exploring a foreign city - which in many cases is in a foreign country - and everyone is eager to impress everyone else with their hospitality if not their wares. But after the dust settles and they have to assess what they've got out of the exercise, organisers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers will have to be happy enough with the proceedings to do it all again at the next opportunity. Or will they?

On the surface of it a tradeshow is an ideal way of promoting the whole music industry. It brings all the people that have to work together under one large roof (it's actually more like several very large roofs) to make the business tick. And it's conducted with maximum possible publicity to let the rest of the world know just what a thriving business it is. A great confidence builder all round.

But it takes a hell of a lot of time, effort and money to make it all happen - a hell of a lot of money in particular. And that money comes from the same resource as research, investment and advertising; so what money is spent on trade shows is no longer available to improve existing equipment, develop new equipment and inform the people that should be buying it that it's there and of what it does. It's also reflected in the cost of that equipment to the punter. You pay for trade shows.

And what happens if a company should (bravely) decide to boycott a show in order to keep their prices down? Basically, the rest of the industry quietly start to speculate on whether that company is financially sound enough to see next summer. Not such a great confidence builder.

As with so many things, the Frankfurt show was fine for all those that could afford it. We could count on the likes of Yamaha and Roland to be there, spreading themselves over many expensive square feet of floorspace - and to do it very well too. One clever alternative to the conventional approach to trade fairs has been pursued by Ensoniq over a series of shows: the novelty stand. So far they've used absurd headphones, outsized instruments and now a scene from another world to attract attention to themselves. Whatever your opinion of these publicity gimmicks, each of them has put Ensoniq high on the list of show gossip topics. But what about smaller concerns? Well, manufacturers of the classic VCS3 synthesiser, EMS, were to be found in amongst the big fish. I only hope this tiny Cornish business and others, like Cheetah and Nomad who were also to be found in the main halls, get a good return on their investment.

Alternatively, there were a number of smaller rooms within the show complex that housed exhibitors unable or unwilling to fork out for space in the main halls. But I wonder how many potentially interested parties actually found the time to slip away from the main action to hear Sequential's John Bowen doing live remixes of Janet Jackson on a Prophet 3000 or to witness the awesome power of the Zyklus MIDI Performance System? And what might we all miss as a consequence?

The purpose of a trade show is to further the interests of the industry concerned, but it seems to be a sad fact of life that unless you have the money to play the R&D, manufacturing and advertising games and the trade-show game, there's no fun to be had at the Fair.

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Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Apr 1988

Editorial by Tim Goodyer

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