Meet the 2024 Tiny Desk Contest winner


Nearly 7,000 independent artists entered this year’s Tiny Desk Contest, NPR Music’s annual search for the next great undiscovered artist. Earlier today, Morning Edition revealed the winner: a Sacramento producer, singer, rapper and multi-instrumentalist who performs as The Philharmonik. As he soaks in his big win and prepares to travel to NPR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to perform a Tiny Desk concert, songwriter Christian Gates joins Juana Summers to share the story behind his winning entry.

One of the requirements when submitting to the Tiny Desk Contest is that each video must feature a desk. (It shows the judges that artists are prepared to play behind the real Tiny Desk; plus, it’s fun.) Gates says that desks usually make him feel as if he’s deviating from his own path by working for someone else. Eventually, he decided he needed to work at his own desk.

In a YouTube comment on his video, Gates shouts out the Sacramento community, which helped him see this vision through when he said he didn’t have a single penny to his name.

Gates expands on this comment in his All Things Considered interview, sharing with Summers that he went through a dark and humbling time last year. While driving for Uber in order to make ends meet, he got into a bad car accident and could no longer work.

“I was really scrounging up money for change, to even do shows,” he says. “I had these big visions for shows where I wanted nine people playing with me — but I couldn’t afford it. And as the months went by it got progressively worse. And my other bills started to fall behind, too.”

Then, when the Tiny Desk Contest opened, he asked his community for a favor.

“I said, hey, I think we could do good in this Contest if we execute this vision — but I really need your guys’ help with this,” Gates explains. “And everybody, absolutely everybody, came through to help me with no hesitation.”

Gates says that since winning the Contest, it feels like his life has changed overnight.

“I’m glad that I went through the struggle, because [now] this win feels so honest to me, to what I believe in. It’s a reflection of what I’ve worked for,” he shares. “So I’m eternally grateful for everything that I’ve gone through, good and bad.”

This summer, Gates and his eight-piece band will headline the 10-city Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour. You can get tickets to see The Philharmonik, plus other local Contest entrants, at

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Transcript :


We have a winner.


SUMMERS: Every year, thousands of musicians enter NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, and this year’s winner was announced today, an artist called The Philharmonik with a song called “What’s It All Mean?”


THE PHILHARMONIK: (Singing) I was told I could be anything that I wanted to be. Work hard so you can make money and fulfill your dreams.

SUMMERS: And here with me now is Christian Gates, the artist behind The Philharmonik. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and congratulations.

CHRISTIAN GATES: Thank you so much for having me on the show.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. OK. This is a pretty big day for you, I imagine. How are you feeling?

GATES: I am elated. I’m overwhelmed with joy, just soaking it all in.

SUMMERS: Any big plans to celebrate?

GATES: Yeah. Just making sure the team is ready for us to go to Washington, D.C., and of course, we’re all taking it in. We’re all giving each other high-fives and jumping up in the air. We’re doing a lot. So, you know, we’re just, you know, appreciating the feeling overall.


THE PHILHARMONIK: (Singing) What’s it all mean? What’s it all mean? What’s it all mean? What’s it all mean? What’s it all mean? What’s it all mean?

SUMMERS: First of all, I should say that all of us here in D.C. at NPR are very excited to get to see you all perform. And I just want to say, I love the song. I’ve listened to it about a dozen times at this point, but I want to ask you something about the video that you submitted because it’s also pretty amazing. You and the other musicians are in shirts and ties. You’re in what looks like an office-like setting, and you’re sitting at desks like you’re at work. Talk us through the idea behind the video.

GATES: So originally, it came to me back when I released my album in July of 2023, called “Kironic.” “What’s It All Mean?” was the opening track. And my team and I were discussing a lot of ideas about this character, and this office idea came through, and I realized that was it. This character who’s in the suit, which is me, it’s really just a symbolism for, the work always continues, no matter what you’re doing in life.


THE PHILHARMONIK: (Singing) Get up. Go to work. Go to sleep, then repeat. You can’t seem to meet needs working hard like machines. Broken hearts torn apart, making sure you’re closed off and avoid getting hurt to preserve your self-worth. What’s it all mean? What’s it all mean? What’s it all mean?

GATES: The desk was also, like, a huge symbolism. It’s the place of innovation. It’s the place of reflection. It’s also the place of monotony, but either way, the symbolism has a big role in our lives, no matter where we put its significance.

SUMMERS: You know, I’ve got to ask you, was there a time at work when you were sitting there at a desk or doing something else and just asking yourself, what’s it all mean?

GATES: Yeah. So I think that’s the nicer way of putting it. I think – (laughter) – there were most times I was sitting at a desk where I felt like I was deviating from my path, where I just said, I don’t think I should be here. This is not the right desk. I need my own desk.

SUMMERS: You wrote a comment that shouts out the Sacramento community, and you say that that’s a community that literally lifted you up to see this vision through when, as you put it, you had not a single penny to your name. Can you say more about that?

GATES: Oh, yeah. During (laughter) that time, yes, it was a very humbling experience. It was a very dark moment. I was recently, last year, in a total loss car accident, and I was doing Uber and, you know, doing OK to make my ends meet. But once I got into that crash, I could no longer do Uber. So I was really scrounging up money for change and to even do the shows. I had these big visions for shows where I wanted to put nine people playing for me, but I couldn’t afford it.

So as the months went by, it got progressively worse and worse and worse and worse. And my other bills started to fall behind, too. And so I asked for a very, very big favor and said, hey, I think we could do good in this contest if we execute this vision, but I really need your guys’ help for this. And everybody, absolutely everybody, was no hesitation, came through to help me. And I’m eternally grateful for it.

SUMMERS: I mean, that’s such an incredible story. You came from having this car accident to trying to figure out how to put this together. And now you’ve won the Tiny Desk Contest, and you’re coming here to NPR to play at the actual Tiny Desk. How does that feel?

GATES: It feels like it’s overnight, like how my life has changed, but I also know there was a lot of things that I had to go through to get to this point. And I hold it deeply, and I hold it with reverence. And I’m glad that I went through the struggle because this win feels – it feels so honest to me. It feels so honest to what I believe in. It’s a reflection of everything I’ve worked for. And so I’m just eternally grateful for everything that I’ve gone through, good and bad.

SUMMERS: That’s Christian Gates, aka The Philharmonik, the winner of this year’s NPR Tiny Desk Contest. And if you are looking up his music, that is Philharmonik, spelled with a K. You can see the winning video for his song, “What’s It All Mean?” at Christian, thank you, and congratulations again.

GATES: Thank you for having me on. It’s a pleasure.


THE PHILHARMONIK: (Singing) What goes up must come down. What goes around comes around. Around the sun… Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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