NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest is in Full Swing


The Tiny Desk Contest receives thousands of submissions from bands and solo artists across the nation, all vying for one spot to play at the infamous desk and tour the country with NPR.  (Courtesy NPR)

By Hannah Keating, Arts Editor


The 2020 NPR Tiny Desk Contest is now accepting submissions from musicians across the nation. NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts emerged from show host Bob Boilen’s frustration with a “show” environment — people talking, hollering or cheering to the point that it drowns out a performer. The proceeding tongue-in-cheek shows at Boilen’s rather small office desk sparked a series that has hosted over 900 performances and propelled NPR to more than 3.5 million subscribers on YouTube. The shows are intimate and cozy, if not cramped, showing artists working in a light that many audiences never see. 

The annual Tiny Desk Contest was announced at the end of 2014 and crowned its first winner in 2016. Now, the competition receives thousands of submissions from bands and solo artists across the nation, all vying for one spot to play at the infamous desk and tour the country with NPR. 

Winners from years past have risen to all levels of fame from their work, utilizing the large platform to speak up and speak out. One example is Gaelynn Lea, who won in 2016 with her original song “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun.” Her submission featured a performance with haunting melodies and fiddle loops all from her electric wheelchair. She now travels the country performing the violin and advocating for disability rights and accessibility in the arts. Her YouTube videos of songs and speeches have garnered hundreds of thousands of views.

Another notable accomplishment from competition winners is the recent Best New Artist Grammy nomination for 2017 winner Tank and the Bangas. Currently on an American and European tour — with a Coachella performance under their belt — the funky sound and infectious joy of this group shows the caliber of talent the Tiny Desk Contest attracts.


This Year’s Competition

The submissions for 2020 are already rolling in, and any artist or group can still submit an original song until the March 30 deadline. The criteria? The song must be original and yours. You can’t already have a recording contract. You must live in the U.S. and be over 18 years of age. The guidelines? Record a video — set behind a tiny desk or something resembling that set-up recommended — performing your song and upload it to YouTube. Seems too simple? Present something that’s truly from the heart. 

Watching the winning submission of 2019 —“Erase Me” by Quinn Christopherson — takes you on a journey through a powerful ballad of a transgender person “pulling the short stick,” no matter the perception of their gender identity. It’s a provoking commentary on the ugly sides of privilege. His performance is evocative, raw and honest — even in its mistakes. The video is so captivating it’s easy to understand why he was selected. Christopherson, following his tour, now serves on this year’s panel of judges, which includes Boilen and his colleague Bobby Carter. Other judges include radio hosts and singer-songwriters, all versed in music performance and critique.

All are encouraged to participate in the event. Or, if it’s not for yourself, come celebrate the uniqueness of talent the competition draws. If you are so inclined to submit something, you can find all of the entry and eligibility information here. If you want to check out the submissions, you can find them all categorized on the Tiny Desk website here.


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