April 21, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Kate Nixon

Anytime I find myself yearning to be at a concert but am instead stuck in my apartment with a seemingly never-ending pile of assignments, I reach for my remote to turn on the closest thing to a concert I can think of (that isn’t, you know, a recording of a typical live concert) – NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series.

From Mac Miller to The Cranberries to Adele to DOMi & JD Beck, Tiny Desk has over a thousand videos on their YouTube channel, covering a wide assortment of genres and artists. After hyper-fixating on this series for the last two blocks, the question finally occurred to me: how did this series begin?

As it turns out, this series has been ongoing since 2008. Producer Bob Boilen started this series eight years after his creation of “All Songs Considered” as an opportunity to feature intimate acoustic versions of his favorite artists and performers.

The first Tiny Desk concert featured Laura Gibson, a folk-pop singer-songwriter and was inspired after Boilen and NPR Music’s Stephen Thompson saw her play at SXSW in 2008. Boilen and Thompson struggled to hear Gibson in the noisy venue, and Thompson jokingly suggested to Boilen that they should have Gibson play at his desk the next time she was in town. A few weeks later, Gibson did exactly that and aided in the birth of Tiny Desk.

In the first year of the series, only 12 videos were produced – now, the series has uploaded 80 videos just in the past year. The series has grown from single-microphone recordings at a small desk to brilliantly recorded works of art with a dedicated audio producer, at least three to five cameras, as well as an upgraded, not-so-tiny desk.

Over the 15 years the series has been running, it’s provided a unique space for artists at any point in their careers to showcase their music in a stripped-down, personal style to not only the small audience of NPR Staff members, but to the over seven million subscribers to the NPR music channel.

The series continued to produce videos during the height of the pandemic, transitioning to Tiny Desk (home) concerts (which are some of my personal favorites), that provided a way for artists to stay connected with their audiences at a time when most concerts and tours were canceled.  These home concerts also offered a way for viewers to have a look into artists’ personal creative spaces, which usually is a side of music production the public doesn’t get to see. 

The vulnerability showcased in these videos, combined with all the visual aspects of music you don’t typically get to experience just from listening to them is what keeps me hooked. Being able to see what exactly goes into the music I know and love in a venue as simplistic as a desk at the NPR Music headquarters makes these concerts an experience like no other. If you’re interested in watching, here is a non-exhaustive playlist of some of my favorite Tiny Desk Concerts.

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