How NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts are helping artists reach a new audience | Features | MN2S

Forget Madison Square Garden, live music’s most influential stage is now a bit smaller than you might expect.

Throughout the history of music, concerts and live performances have wowed audiences across the world. New inventions, advances in technology, and the ingenuity of visionaries have helped to bring these performances to even more fans.

Following the invention of radio, some stations began to broadcast these live performances in real time from their studios. In the age of the internet, this idea has been taken a step further, with live and recorded video performances from some of these very same stations being broadcasted to a global audience on the web.

Birthed out of the same idea as those old live radio broadcasts, NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series invites artists from a multitude of different genres to perform stripped-down versions of their songs at a desk inside of the offices of NPR’s headquarters. Within recent years these performances have exploded in popularity, with legends of the music industry and up-and-coming acts alike trading the stage for the desk.

Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals

The advent of YouTube has helped the seriesreach more viewers than ever before. Across 800 concerts, the series has beenviewed more than 2 billion times. The most popular edition is Anderson .Paak’s2016 performance, which has accrued an incredible 28 million views. The global reachand broad appeal of the series is astounding, and is due in part to the broad rangeof genres that are represented. From Chris Stapleton to Adele, Big Daddy Kaneto Tash Sultana, and Wyclef Jean to Steve Martin, Tiny Desk invites artists ofall forms.

Another draw of the Tiny Desk series is the way it offers fans a chance to see a new side of artists that they don’t usually show. The bare-bones approach to the set-up has an intimacy and authenticity that’s lacking in conventional live performance, with its elaborate production and staging. Before Anderson .Paak’s performance took the top spot, T-Pain’s autotune-less concert was the previous record holder. More than 14 million people responded to Pain’s expression of vulnerability through his truly incredible voice, heard without effects or processing for what was likely the first time for many.


The Tiny Desk Concerts have become a staplefor music fans across the world, even rivaling BBC’s Live Lounge performancesfor views. People can commonly be heard asking friends and colleagues if theyhave seen the newest Tiny Desk video, or if they had seen a particular artist’sset at the Tiny Desk – most YouTube users will admit to having seen them pop upin the sidebar at least once.

While the shows are a great tool to show a newside of an established artist, they are also a brilliant showcase for new andupcoming artists. NPR began a contest in 2014 that asked bands to submit videosof their performances, with winners earning the opportunity to perform on TinyDesk. Past winners have included FantasticNegrito in 2015, Gaelynn Lea in 2016, Tank and the Bangas in 2017 and NaiaIzumi in 2018. Additionally, a group called Hobo Johnson and the LoveMakerswere invited to perform in 2018 after their submission went viral.  Altogether these 5 videos have reached morethan 12 million views on NPR’s official YouTube channel, bringing much-needed exposureto fledgling acts that otherwise might have remained unknown.

Angel Olsen

Artists that appear on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts build invaluable connections with their core fanbase and casual listeners alike. The authenticity and vulnerability displayed in the intimate desk setting evidently resonates with viewers and offers something special that other live performance series would be wise to emulate. As we move into 2019 and online video content increases its dominance over the global music market, it’s likely that Tiny Desk will grow even more influential and continue to host unique performances from exceptionally talented artists, big and small.

Check out our live roster for more talented acts from the world of live music.


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