arts

NPR's Tiny Desk Contest gives amateur musicians a chance for fame



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A poster for NPR's Tiny Desk Contest. NPR began accepting entries Tuesday for its sixth annual Tiny Desk Contest where the winner will perform as part of the concert series.

Bob Boilen has shared his office desk with Taylor Swift, Adele, Macklemore, Chance the Rapper and Lizzo. An IU student could be next.

NPR began accepting entries Tuesday for its sixth annual Tiny Desk Contest. To enter, contestants record a video of them performing an original song at a desk, just like the setup for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series. The winner will tour the United States and record a Tiny Desk Concert in Washington, D.C.

Applications for the competition will close at midnight March 30.

Boilen, who created the concert series, said his actual work desk is the one used in the videos of famous musicians playing a set of acoustic songs. It’s also where the competition winner will perform. 

Boilen is one of seven judges on a panel looking for someone who distinguishes himself or herself in their video by demonstrating what makes him/her special.

“The most important thing I look for, and the judges look for, is what I call singularity,” Boilen said. “I want to see something that makes me go ‘Wow, only you could do that.’”

Boilen said he and the NPR team started the contest as a way to find new musicians who would be nearly impossible to discover otherwise. 

Alaska native Quinn Christopherson won the 2019 contest for his song about being a transgender man. Boilen said Christopherson, who is a judge for this year’s Tiny Desk Contest, has a fan base he may have never gotten in his remote hometown.

“If you win, it’s life changing,” Boilen said. “You will find an audience that would’ve taken a lifetime to find.”

Previous winners, such as Fantastic Negrito, have gone on to perform sold-out shows across the U.S. and win Grammys.

Though there is only one winner, Boilen said all contestants have the chance to gain exposure. For as long as the contest is open, the judges look for the most creative videos, like ones that are set in the mountains or feature dogs, and post them on the NPR blog, Boilen said.

Sara Bredemeyer, a singer-songwriter who studies flute performance at IU, said she’s interested in entering. Bredemeyer has previously entered other nationwide songwriting contests and said she particularly likes this contest for the creative freedom it offers.

“I appreciate that it’s got an extra aspect, aside from it just being a song, that allows people the opportunity to add an element of creativity,” Bredemeyer said. “There’s room for people to be artistic.”

For more information, visit the Tiny Desk Contest webpage

Are you planning on applying to the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest? Let us know by contacting the Indiana Daily Student at arts@idsnews.com.

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