Tiny Desk Concerts bring intimate performances to NPR


I am here to tell you about my latest obsession: Tiny Desk Concerts. These concerts are exactly what their name suggests — mini sets literally played from behind the desks residing in National Public Radio’s (NPR) music office in Washington D.C. Since 2008, NPR has hosted hundreds of musical artists at its office with the intention of sharing genuinely awesome music with the world. I love Tiny Desk Concerts because they include both big acts as well as unknown and up-and-coming artists from a variety of genres — indie rock, pop, country, classical… you name it — to ensure that the series appeals to all music lovers by providing them with old favorites as well as opportunities to discover new ones. Past guests include Alt-J, Yo-Yo Ma and The Lone Bellow, to name a few.

John Legend performs at the Tiny Desk Concert on Wednesday, October 23, 2013. (Courtesy of Abby Oldham/NPR Music)
John Legend performs at the Tiny Desk Concert on Wednesday, October 23, 2013. (Courtesy of Abby Oldham/NPR Music)

Here is how it works: The artists perform two to four songs in front of a small audience of NPR employees in an intimate and unique setting. The result is performances that are raw and emotional. I know this not because I have been to the NPR office for a concert, but because each one is filmed and uploaded to the NPR Music website and Youtube channel so that the public can also enjoy the incredible experience. You can even download the audio of each performance courtesy of NPR or subscribe to the free podcast on iTunes.

Yet aside from the concerts’ unusual concept, what sets the series apart is the high-definition video and sound quality. Witnessing an artist’s facial expressions and body movements in extreme detail while listening to crystal-clear vocals as he or she pours heart and soul into a performance infuses the songs with greater meaning. It also exposes an artist’s emotional vulnerability, which adds to the performance’s intensity. Let me put it this way: The only thing better than watching John Legend go nuts on the piano as he melts your heart with his ballad “Made to Love” is gazing into his beautiful, brown eyes as he does so. (And yes, I know the color of his eyes because I have gazed into them while watching his Tiny Desk performance over and over again since its release — which was today. I might have a problem.)

Plus, each video typically lasts between 12 and 16 minutes, making it easy to squeeze one in as the perfect study break — or two, or three… or 10. So next time you are bummed about missing a concert in the city, exhausted from working on psets or simply looking for a nice way to spend your evening without emerging from the cave that is your room, give Tiny Desk a shot. I recommend checking out Daughter’s set first — whether you are familiar with the London-based indie rock band or not — followed by Night Beds, a band with an incredible 21st-century folk/alternative sound. Then turn down the lights, turn up the volume, put that baby in full-screen mode and prepare to be amazed.

While you're here...

We're a student-run organization committed to providing hands-on experience in journalism, digital media and business for the next generation of reporters. Your support makes a difference in helping give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to develop important professional skills and conduct meaningful reporting. All contributions are tax-deductible.

Get Our EmailsDigest