Every year, we ask unsigned artists to send us their songs. These artists invite us into their communities and spaces — their buildings and basements and backyards — and share the music they've been working so hard on. Getting to be among the first people to hear a great new song feels like being let in on the best secret. And through the Tiny Desk Contest, we get to share those coveted secrets with the world. We're thrilled to announce that the Tiny Desk Contest is back for 2021!
Since we started the Tiny Desk Contest in 2014, we've gotten to discover new music (and new desks) from tens of thousands of artists from across the country. Our winners have gone on to do remarkable things — winning Grammy awards, playing sold-out tours around the world and signing to major labels — and we can't wait to celebrate even more great music this year.
This year's panel of judges is phenomenal: Linda Diaz, our talented 2020 winner, will be part of our lineup — plus fellow extraordinary Tiny Desk alums Tobe Nwigwe and Phoebe Bridgers. Joining me from NPR Music is Tiny Desk producer Bobby Carter, and I'll also be joined by some friends from NPR Member stations: Jewly Hight, editorial director at WNXP in Nashville, and John Morrison, host of Culture Cypher Radio at WXPN in Philadelphia.
Here are a few reminders about how the Contest works:
- We'll start accepting entries next Tuesday, May 11, at 10 a.m. ET.
- Entries close at 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday, June 7.
- You must be an unsigned musician and at least 18 years old to enter.
- To enter, record a video of yourself playing one original song at a desk (any desk will do!) and upload it to YouTube.
- Enter by submitting your entry at npr.org/tinydeskcontest.
- The winner will play their very own Tiny Desk concert.
And while there will only be one winner, we'll be sharing tons of standout entries on this blog, in our mashup videos and on social media. When the Contest has closed and our judges have picked their favorites, then we'll start Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf, a weekly livestreamed series where each judge will share their favorite entries on the NPR Music YouTube channel.
Speaking of virtual events: To kick off this year's Contest, we're bringing all six of our previous Contest winners together for the very first time. Next Tuesday, May 11, join us for Tiny Desk Contest Family Hour, where I'll talk with our past winners live on YouTube. The event will also feature performances from all the winners: Fantastic Negrito, Gaelynn Lea, Tank and the Bangas, Naia Izumi, Quinn Christopherson and Linda Diaz. We hope you'll join us and ask your questions in the YouTube live chat.
Big dreams have to start somewhere. Why not the Tiny Desk?
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Calling all musicians - get your recording equipment and your home office furniture. The Tiny Desk Contest is coming back. NPR Music has announced the seventh annual contest for 2021. The previous six have seen tens of thousands of entries from every genre. They've even launched a few careers and not just for the contest winners. The Tiny Desk is Bob Boilen's actual workstation when he's at NPR headquarters.
Welcome back, Bob.
BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: Hello there.
CORNISH: All right, so remind us again what's in it for the musicians - I mean, other than a chance to play at your cubicle...
CORNISH: ...Which sounds very exciting. Why enter this contest?
BOILEN: A couple of things. One - and the most important - is to be heard. There's a chance that you might win, and hundreds and thousands of people will hear your music who never would have heard it before. And also, for those who enter the contest that don't win, we highlight videos all the time and discover artists. So an artist, No-No Boy, who makes music talking and helping us learn about those imprisoned in Japanese internment camps...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMPERIAL TWIST")
NO-NO BOY: (Singing) Can you give the world a twist just by doing the twist?
BOILEN: ...Lau Noah, who is an amazing classical guitar player...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA REALIDAD")
LAU NOAH: (Singing in Spanish).
BOILEN: ...Both of these artists, in fact, were on this past week's All Songs Considered. We continued to follow them.
CORNISH: At this point, how do you enter?
BOILEN: So we're asking musicians in the United States who are 18 years and older to make a video of themselves behind a desk of their choosing - the desk is important, and get imaginative - of a song that is yours that you're proud of, and then send it to us.
CORNISH: Now, the truth is you get, like, 6,000 entries every year of all sorts, right? I mean, people do send stuff to you. What are you looking for?
BOILEN: Singularity is the thing that I look for most - something that you out there as a musician are doing something in some way, shape or form that nobody else is doing.
CORNISH: Do you have an example, someone who stood out over the years that you really think, this was the ideal?
BOILEN: We have six great examples. Let's take Tank and the Bangas, for an example.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Singing) Man, I can't believe I just won Tiny Desk. Oh, my God, I did it with big hair and a tiny desk. I won Tiny Desk.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Laughter).
BOILEN: They are an artist I had never heard of before. But also, the music that they make is - it's poetry. It's joy. It helps you look deep inside of yourself in the poetry and music they make. And it's a big band. And they did it all in a little classroom.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUICK")
TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Rapping) So I got to make a quick decision. I got to get - get out my feelings, see that money on the dash. Oh, then we want to go to Venice. Then we want to go to Venice.
CORNISH: Last year's contest came during the pandemic. We're obviously not out of the woods, you know, this year when it comes to COVID. How will that impact this one? What will be different about this year's contest?
BOILEN: As the entries started coming in at the end of last year's Tiny Desk, a lot of people couldn't get together, and so people had to figure out how to make their music with their bandmates. So people got creative in that regard. This may be a little bit easier. There will still be challenges, but I think people are better equipped to overcome them. Everybody's gotten their home office and their desks in a little better shape this year than they might have had last March.
CORNISH: That's NPR Music's Bob Boilen, creator of Tiny Desk Concerts, talking about the Tiny Desk Contest, which opens May 11. Best of luck, everyone. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.