Deconstructing Pop Culture

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On Attending the NARM Convention

May 12th, 2011 by David Kronemyer · 2 Comments

The National Association of Recording Merchandisers (“NARM”) is holding its annual convention this week in Los Angeles. Members of NARM are music wholesalers (distributors that sell records to stores) and retailers (stores that sell records to consumers). The basic idea is that record companies (the companies originating, marketing and promoting the artists, then selling their records into the retail food chain) come to NARM to present their wares for the forthcoming year, and try to get the wholesalers and retailers excited about their future releases. The more excited they get, or so the theory goes, the more likely they will be to buy those records to resell to consumers.

The highlights of NARM are large-group meetings, where all of the attendees get together in a large auditorium to watch presentations from the record labels. These presentations are elaborate, frequently involving not only montages of music videos but also artist performances. Labels try to one-up each other by staging the most elaborate spectacles – the better, I suppose, to cultivate impressions in the fragile minds of the wholesalers and retailers.

Needless to say, this whole concept is absurd. I used to go to NARM conventions consistently throughout the mid 1980s to the late 1990s. They were an expensive waste of time. Record labels spent hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing videos to show to the retailers, bringing in bands, hosting parties, hiring hookers, etc. There are a dozen other variables that affect the amount of records sold, which retailers have nothing to do with. These include radio airplay; the record company’s marketing, promotional and advertising commitment; and other silly factors such as whether people actually like the record. Few things are more ludicrous than a thousand grown men and women sitting in an auditorium watching music videos and artist performances presented by record companies.

In fairness, record labels used NARM to focus activity on their own operations. For example, there typically were small group meetings between key retailers and record company sales executives. And, it was an excuse for them to bring their key sales executives in from the field for group meetings. Both of these activities yielded some economic utility. Other than this, NARM simply was a giant boondoggle.

To counteract the problem, I developed what I now think of as my “NARM meeting strategy.” It goes something like this. You show up at one of the large group meetings. You walk around the room, greeting everyone you see – all of your colleagues and acquaintances, who have shown up for the presentations. After you work the room, then you leave. If somebody later asks you where you were, you simply tell them you were on the other side of the room. And if somebody on that other side of the room asks you where you were, you simply relate the inversion of the same story. There are enough people, and there is enough confusion, that you remain perfectly credible. There’s absolutely no point in hanging around, because you’d get bored to death. This frees you up to do something more worthwhile, like staring at the wall. I since have been able to expand this strategy to all kinds of group meetings and conventions in other contexts. Try it, it works!