What is NPR’s Tiny Desk?

By: Hannah Gliedman


Tiny Desk was created by Bob Boilen, a writer and music creator at NPR. At the time Bolien was a concert fanatic and was seeing 5 shows a night, every night for years.

In 2008 Bolien and a coworker, Stephen Thompson, a co-producer at NPR Music, attended a show featuring Laura Gibson, a small artist from Oregon. Boilen says “It was this awful bar — the speaker was pointing out the door, people were watching basketball games and cheering for their teams. [Laura] had a quiet voice, and we could barely hear her at all. Then an idea struck. Stephen jokingly said [to Gibson], ‘You should just come play in our office.’”

After a couple weeks Gibson came into play just at a desk with some microphones and a camera that was then put on to the fairly new, NPR YouTube channel. From there, NPR has invited hundreds of artists from all different fields of music: rap, pop, folk. Over time the segment has gained various recognitions and has multiple videos that have over 100 million views.

The Tiny Desk set up sometimes creates obstacles for artists, for others it causes no trouble. Because of its stripped back and authentic nature and sound, “There’s no hiding at Tiny Desk” says the sound producer at Tiny Desk, Niki Walker. Some bands like Wolf Alice and Big Thief have a hard time stripping back their music to fit the more acoustic mood. Other bands, especially jazz, like Moon Hooch says, “We didn’t have any trouble with the sound at Tiny Desk; we just went into subway mode.”

Greatest Of All Time

The most viewed Tiny Desk of all time is Dua Lipa’s at home concert which accumulated 107 million views in just 2 years. The video was part of the tiny desk concerts that were held during the pandemic, “at-home”, but because of the stripped back nature of the show it didn’t change much about the layout, if anything it gave the singer more room for electronics and instruments.

However; it’s widely considered that the best Tiny Desk of all time is Mac Miller’s. The concert was published in August of 2018 and has 101 million views. The performance came only a couple weeks before the singer’s untimely death. The set was the first time the artist performed tracks from his album, ‘Swimming’.

Other great performances on the Tiny Desk include Tyler, The Creator, who utilized the strippend back style of the show and performed with an emphasis on his background singers, The Cranberries, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, Hozier, Adele, Lizzy MacAlpine, and many more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s