When the news broke last year of the venerable BPM show being shuttered in preference to a number of more market specific ones, it’s fair to say that after the initial shock and actual sadness, there wasn’t exactly a great amount of surprise. Despite splitting the more pro sound and light element away from the DJ and production sectors, it was a show that had seen its best but was not what the market wanted.

Why? Well with hindsight, it’s easier to pinpoint the reasons, and these almost certainly apply to other existing shows, and possibly foretell their future too. Simply put, the internet is killing big trade shows.

BPM had a humble start as a reasonably compact but valid competitor to PLASA, a show that over the years had been the doyen of DJ trade shows, but had slowly pushed the DJ element into the background in preference to those more companies more fitting their name that had more money and would buy more floor space.

And in a very short time, BPM won over former PLASA exhibitors, and soon become the goto show for DJs, producers, and pro sound and light companies too. Some of them still went to PLASA too, and probably still do too.

But it became clear that as the recession hit, and the internet offered considerably better and cost-effective ways to reach the target audience, companies had less reason to drop insane amounts of money (I’ve heard numbers that make no sense whatsoever) to reach just a few thousand people, if they’re lucky.

So the push to get the industry to keep dropping increasingly large amounts of cash into a PR money pit with little tangible return was never going to end well. DJ is all but over at Musikmesse, the DJ presence at NAMM shrinks each year, and sadly the original BPM show folded last year.

Thus it’s clear, as we have alluded to numerous times, that the DJ trade show as we know it is over. So you can imagine my feelings when it was announced that the BPM  Show was being resurrected, albeit with a new focus, and relaunched in 2018.

ARE YOU QUITE MAD?

Even when buying a show title for what I suspect was a bargain price, the very idea of trying to make something work that the industry had more or less abandoned seemed like sheer lunacy. And as details began to emerge, it was clear that the new BPM was definitely not the old one. Not one bit.

The new venue — Cranmore Park — although in roughy the same geographic area, was most definitely not the NEC Genting Arena. Proclaiming free parking for a whole 250 cars, I wasn’t exactly inspired by the choice of venue, nor did a cruise around the website fill me with hope either. And having worked out that the Mobile DJ Network had bought the BPM title, and a subsequent announcing of going back to its roots, the new BPM was going to be sometime smaller, cheaper, and having a decidedly mobile DJ focus.

This meant that the target audience was going to be older, and less likely to be impressed by arenas playing host to 1Xtra DJs and stand sets from DMC champions. This audience wanted, and definitely got, something quite different.

LIKE A PHOENIX

Cards on the table – everything that was playing out in front of me in social channels was telling me that I was going to be writing an obituary piece. “BPM 2018 — where trade shows go to die” or similar was being kicked around while wearing my editorial trousers.

Having looked at Instagram shots from the setup day on Instagram, we were already cracking jokes about sticky carpets and suspended ceilings. Every indication was that this was going to be lower than low key. A picture of the 80s sticky looking carpet tiles was the planned story header too.

But what became immediately clear as we (that’s me and daughter Hatty) drove past long queues and were directed into the furthest corners of the overspill car park, was that the new BPM show was already a success. I’m told that ticket presales numbered in excess of 1500, a respectable number for a relatively niche event. I suspect that the final footfall was probably considerably more.

DOWN TO EARTH IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE

It’s fair to say that I had an excellent long term relationship with people at Marked Events. And turning up at the old show usually got me smiles, hugs, and even kisses. And that was just from the men.

So imagine how I felt having to queue with the hoi polloi, the proles, and the great unwashed. Imagine the indignity of the new organisers having no idea who I was, or even remembering an email exchange 48 hours earlier that organised press passes, and being asked to wait while said passes were organised. I’m back down to earth with a bang… well a short sit on leather sofas outside the hall anyway.

And I bloody loved it. Right now, I’m freewheeling with an established reputation in the DJ tech industry. But to these mobile focussed people I’m a nobody asking for free entry into their party, and I relish the opportunity to prove myself all over again.

The down-to-earthness didn’t end here. For once we got through the door (elderly attendant as opposed to rip-your-head-off-if-you-fuck-with-us-while-we-bag-search NEC security), the vibe was entirely different to the old BPM. And in a really nice way.

MORE MARKET THAN NIGHTCLUB

So we’re through the door, and it’s clear that things have changed. Radically. Even before getting through the door, the old BPM was signalled by a heavy boom boom boom in the air. That was still in play here, but not from half a mile away.

The mood was more relaxed. The comparatively low ceilings (a tad under 3m making it tricky for some trusses apparently) made you look into the show rather than up, nor did you fear for your hearing. I joked that the noise police would ask me to keep my voice down, but there were no noise police.

There was however smoke aplenty — only to be expected in a mobile DJ show — but we were struck by the spaciousness. Shows have a tendency to cram stands in like US street blocks and often leave the space between them just wide enough for shoulders to rub. BPM 2018 was not like that at all — perhaps from a lack of exhibitors building monstrous dick-out-on-the-table stands, but it was all the better for it.

I’ve relayed my positive experience of last year’s Synthfest show in Sheffield. Instead of luxurious and lofty stands manned by far too many people, the event was trestle tables and popup banners, and a significant retail presence too. It was definitely not about flexing the marketing budget in the direction of competitors, but was all about the people and their wares. And it was a brilliant grassroots event.

This is what I hoped the new BPM would be. And I was not disappointed.

A BRIGHT FUTURE

As discussed above, the future for glossy trade shows (certainly in niche markets) is grim. Companies have seen the value derived from such lavish spends and seen pretty much no valid return — financial or otherwise. Social media allows them to reach a bazillion people in a matter of minutes with their glossy and expensive marketing. But meeting them in the flesh and getting hands on gear is more important than ever. The popularity and apprentice success of in-store demos is a testament to that.

So I’m extremely happy to see the direction of the new version. It had no pretensions of being a PLASA or ADE, or indeed of trying to be the old BPM either. The new BPM is something else — perhaps traditional in feel, but definitely much more in line with what I feel the target audience wants — a chance to play with gear, hang out with mates, and walk away with a deal.

This is the big difference — I feel that the old BPM catered for the needs of the industry (who subsequently confirmed that they didn’t need it anymore), whereas the new BPM is more focussed on the end user, an approach that in turn will help the industry provide what the end user wants.

More of this sort of thing. Give people a reason to get out of bed at the weekend.

MY ADVICE

For a show like this to be successful, you have to think about how to get visitors to give up a day of their precious weekend (and many are working DJs at the weekends) to drive up or down the country to visit a hall full of DJ gear. Here’s a few points to bear in mind:

  • Keep it low key. Don’t fall into the trap of making it bigger and flashier.   It won’t work.
  • No stand builds. It’s a huge cost and time imposition that nobody wants or needs. The target audience is not impressed.
  • Focus in gear and teaching, not performances from VIP DJs. Showcasing up and coming DJs is good, but DJs playing to DJs isn’t the best idea. Have you ever seen DJs dance at a trade show? I rest my case.
  • The DJ industry is dominated by just a few large companies. So use BPM to help small businesses with small budgets to promote themselves and get seen by DJs, and indeed for others in the industry to connect with.
  • Add more retail opportunities. There’s nothing like healthy discounts to get people out of bed at the weekend. Make a thing of selling off gear on stands too, perhaps a very public happy hour on the last day. Make it feel more like a market than a nightclub.

SUMMING UP

After my initial scepticism about trying to resurrect a show that the industry had left behind, the new owners went after a different audience and apparently succeeded. We left happy, with a smile on the organiser’s face.

From conversations at the show, the industry will be returning next year. So will I, and so should you.