One of the most popular live-performance video series in the world, NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concerts continue to delight and inspire, all the while turning audiences on to emerging bands and offering a new and more intimate lens with which to view iconic artists.
In late January, the Tiny Desk Contest – NPR Music’s annual nationwide search for the next great undiscovered artist – began accepting applications for its tenth contest. Tank & the Bangas, Fantastic Negrito and Little Moon are among the ever-growing list of past winners, all of whom have gone on to tour nationally and become household names.
The contest returns with a new panel of judges, many of them renowned artists in their own right. And, if you’re an unsigned artist, they’re asking for you to make a video. This year’s submission window is open until midnight on Wednesday, February 21.
Bobby Carter, one of the Tiny Desk Concert producers and a returning Tiny Desk Contest judge, recently talked to the Jacksonville Music Experience about what’s new at the most famous desk in America, and why –if you’re a Jacksonville-area artists — he wants to watch your contest-entry video. Listen to the conversation via the player above or read a transcript of the interview below.
The following interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.
Before we talk about this year’s contest, I just want to touch on the enduring influence and draw of the Tiny Desk. It’s clearly become a place that artists, no matter the genre, really want to perform. From artists looking to reach a wider audience to more mainstream artists that probably don’t need the exposure as much, I’m thinking of Post Malone or Usher. Has it become a heavy lift to field all of that interest and curate who gets to come in and play?
Yeah, you know, because I’m thinking about the sheer volume of artists and bands who want to try to play the Tiny Desk; from your favorite artists — major pop popular artists — to a larger number of emerging artists who would just like the opportunity. So just fielding that volume, that’s the real challenge. Because, you know, we shoot two or three a week, there’s only 365 days in a year. So just the the major challenge is figuring out who we grant the opportunity to and who we say “no” to. And that’s that’s a real challenge. Because with with limited time, you’re gonna have to say no to some things. Which is never been easy for me.
And with so many performances happening in your office, when do you get any work done?[Laughs]Well, listen, it’s the greatest work time per in the industry. It’s usually during lunchtime. So imagine eating lunch and people, you know, at one o’clock, say, “Hey, come up and see Usher.”
Let’s talk about the contest. This is the tenth year and in addition to a chance to perform their very own tiny desk concert, this year’s winner gets to go on the Tiny Desk tour, right? And there’s a mentorship aspect, right? Can you talk about those two aspects — the tour and the mentorship program?
I think our team, the Tiny Desk contest team, in huddling in preparation for our tenth year, I think they did a great job coming up with better ways to actually serve not only the winner, but the contestants as well. So this tour is usually the first major tour for the winner, where they can travel the country and show the country with their made of. And with that, we also will pick contestants from the cities who didn’t win to open for them.
Musically, there isn’t a judge who is not into that, who can’t open up to that.
But the thing I’m most excited about this year is the mentorship. When you think about the music industry today, it’s very complex. And if you win this contest, and you’re transitioning from a day job, you may not be completely educated on all that the industry entails. That could be anything from how to read a contract, knowing what publishing means to artists, rights management, publicity and marketing. This mentorship opportunity is going to provide a bit more insight, a little bit of hand holding or walking arm-in-arm if you will. And I think is going to be a game changer for the contest and for the winner because, you know, in conversations in the past with with previous winners and contestants, that’s the one thing that they talked about.
And the judges panel has expanded too, right? In addition to yourself and popular artists like Julien Baker and MUNA, there are industry experts watching the videos. This is a panel with expertise that is broad and far-reaching. You’ve got jazz aficionados like Keanna Faircloth, music publicists, and DJs from NPR member stations across the country. This is a panel of heavy hitters, with knowledge that mirrors the diversity of the entries.
One-hundred percent. And I’m so proud of this panel. We’re leaving no stone unturned. No matter what you do. Musically, there isn’t a judge who is not into that, who can’t open up to that. The one thing we all have in common is that we love music in general. There’s a wide net here. So I’m so proud that we’ve invited the insiders here again, to provide that knowledge and that wisdom. Like you said, we have Tiny Desk alumni like Nicky, and Duran Bernards, so there’s no one on that panel. Who I’m just so proud to be alongside of this panel of judges this year. I just truly believe 2024 is going to be a monumental year for the contest and for the winner and the and maybe even some contestants.
The contest is open until February 21. For Jacksonville-area artists who are listening, what’s your advice to those thinking about submitting a video?
If you’re thinking about it, and you haven’t quite made the decision, come on over. Submit your video. We’re watching. Someone is watching your video. The difference between success and the opposite of whatever success is is exposure. This is an opportunity for exposure. Julien Baker is going to watch your video. Neffy is going to watch your video. Loren Medina is going to watch a video; a host of others. We’re going to watch your video and you will be considered.
The 2024 Tiny Desk Contest is underway. This year’s submission window is open until midnight on Wednesday, February 21. For more information on how to submit your video, visit the 2024 Tiny Desk Contest homepage here.