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Instrument Maker Yamaha Rocks On

Yamaha Corp. of America is turning up the music.

The manufacturer, one of the largest makers of musical instruments in the world, is set to release 99 new instruments and audio equipment items this year.

It’s the largest number of new product rollouts for Buena Park-based Yamaha, which employs about 350 people locally, since 2019. In total, the company, founded in 1960, counts over 4,000 SKUs.

The amped-up release plans come amid a growing number of live events post-pandemic, as well as greater investments in music education, officials say.

“We’re back to releasing a lot of new products, which helps drive our industry,” President Tom Sumner told the Business Journal.

Once the world began to reopen, “it seemed like every musician was touring,” Sumner said.

The return of concerts and live shows marked “a 180-degree shift for the industry after these categories struggled during COVID,” the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) reported in a recent report.

A Tactile Business 

Every year, Yamaha attends the annual NAMM show in Anaheim, put on by the music merchants’ organization to highlight new products and connect with its 2,000 dealers and retailers in person.

Yamaha products range from a $150 acoustic guitar to a $150,000 grand piano and a $200,000 sound system.

“It’s kind of hard to take a piano into a music store in the middle of nowhere to let them try it,” Sumner said.

The manufacturer, for the third year, took over a whole wing on the third floor of the Anaheim Convention Center in January to showcase the new products for attendees to try.

New releases included a brand-new line of electric guitars called Pacifica, which the company designed using 3D modeling technology. The company also debuted the newest model of its digital mixing console DM7 at the show.

“Music is a really tactile business meaning you have to put your hands on it,” Sumner said.

“This is just about the only meeting place left for the musical products industry.”

The two biggest categories for Yamaha by dollar volume currently are guitars and live sound, according to the executive.

For the fiscal 2023 year, the North America region made up 25% of the parent organization’s revenue. Yamaha’s U.S. and Canada segments are the largest contributors to annual sales—the parent reported North American sales of $855 million, up almost 30% from the prior year.

The music products industry is valued at $19.5 billion, according to NAMM.

Campus Changes 

This year, Yamaha will begin a renovation of its longtime headquarters on Orangethorpe Avenue, just north of the Artesia (91) Freeway and about 2 miles from Knott’s Berry Farm.

One of the two buildings at the campus has been demolished to make way for new office space. The new headquarters facility will total 75,620 square feet when complete.

“It’s important to have a nice campus for people to come together, work and collaborate,” Sumner said.

The manufacturer chose to set up shop in Orange County to benefit from the surrounding airports for traveling between California and the parent company in Japan, according to Sumner.

The executive also pointed to the talent pool of the region made up of a “very well-educated workforce.”

“One of the key things for growth is getting good people and [those] who are passionate about being in the music industry,” he said.

“We are very committed to Orange County.”

Education Trends

Sumner, who has run Yamaha’s U.S. division since 2018, noted that despite a shortage of both personnel to run sound and play in the touring bands, the demand for live music has remained strong.

The top two highest-grossing tours of 2022, Bad Bunny and Elton John, both used Yamaha consoles during their run, according to officials.

Multiple sporting venues, including schools and houses of worship, chose to upgrade their sound systems to match the increase in consumers’ expectation of quality in live entertainment, Sumner said.

“It is no surprise people’s desire to gather again is stronger than the economic challenges,” NAMM President John Mlynczak said.

Expectations also have increased on the broadcasting and livestreaming side of gatherings, which helped drive further demand for Yamaha audio products, Corporate Vice President of Sales Garth Gilman said.

Yamaha has been benefiting from a boost in music education, as socializing and financial support ramped back up (see story, this page).

“More schools brought the music programs in, and more students wanted to participate,” Sumner said.

The government “unleashed” funding, Sumner said, with schools aiming to develop or expand existing music programs.

“It is such a broad range of customers that we work with, but the common thread that we see through all of it is the musical experience,” Gilman said.

Future Music Makers 

Yamaha Corp. of America President Tom Sumner says that music education is one of the founding tenets of the Buena Park company.

“When a kid takes up an instrument and they dedicate themselves, all of a sudden they’re part of a community,” Sumner told the Business Journal.

The company currently has 42 music programs set up at schools and dealers in 16 states, with a majority in California. Worldwide, Yamaha reported that 7 million students have attended programs in the U.S., Japan, Europe and elsewhere.

Yamaha is regularly involved with the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana along with hundreds of schools across the country.

Yamaha’s goal is to develop more music makers. Its consumer base ranges from 3-year-olds taking singing classes at a Yamaha school program to the professional performing on a world tour.

Corporate Vice President of Sales Garth Gilman cited an alignment between the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation and Yamaha as a reason for the manufacturer’s involvement with the show every year.

“If we can, as both a manufacturer and a NAMM member, [develop] the new music makers by advocating for music more and talking about the advantages it brings, they become a driver for the industry,” Gilman said.

The Prince Piano

Yamaha Corp. of America decided to add a piece of musical history to the 2024 NAMM show in Anaheim earlier this year.

The local manufacturer collaborated with Prince’s estate in Minnesota, Paisley Park, to showcase a custom-colored purple grand piano that was commissioned for a concert series he was working on in 2016.

Paisley agreed to let the piano—which Prince only performed with once at a private event before his death—visit the music convention to kick off the 40th anniversary of his album and movie “Purple Rain.”

“This is the perfect opportunity for lovers of music and entertainment to get up close and personal with such a historical artifact,” Charles Spicer Jr., partner and legacy preservationist of the Prince Estate, told the Business Journal.

Spicer said that while Prince was best known for his guitar playing, the piano was actually his first instrument. The Yamaha team worked quickly to paint and tune the piano to how Prince requested, working off a swatch from a specific purple couch the artist had chosen.

This is the first time the piano has been outside Paisley Park, which typically sees 500 people per day during the summer months.

Only VIP visitors typically view the piano at the museum. Displaying it at NAMM allowed around 60,000 people to see it for the very first time.

“All of it comes about 360 [degrees] for us, from the process of building it to how much he loved it and how connected he was to it,” said Chris Gero, who was one of the few people at Yamaha to work on the secret project.

“It’s probably one of the most valuable instruments on the planet right now,” Gero said.

“It’s our job to protect it, and we did this with great intent and reverence.

“We’re going to turn the world purple all over again,” Spicer said. “Having it displayed here is the start.”

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