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'Do something you're proud of and send it to us,' NPR Tiny Desk Contest judges say

Bob Boilen, Tiny Desk series creator and All Songs Considered host.
Courtesy Bob Boilen
Bob Boilen, Tiny Desk series creator and All Songs Considered host.

NPR’s annual Tiny Desk Contest is a chance for unsigned music artists from around the country to receive national exposure by showcasing their talent in front of several judges with ties to the music industry.

The winner will play a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., be featured on NPR's All Songs Considered, and headline the Tiny Desk Concert On The Road tour.

If the winner is from Hawaiʻi, they also get the chance to follow in the footsteps of ʻukulele virtuoso Taimane Gardner. In 2020, she became the first musician from Hawaiʻi to play a Tiny Desk Concert.

"When Taimane came to NPR, she brought a dancer and made it very much a deep representation of the culture that she and her music is such a part of, and I think put on quite an astonishing show," said Bob Boilen, Tiny Desk series creator and All Songs Considered host.

That was one of the last shows recorded in person before the pandemic began in 2020. The series persisted, however, with Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts.

So what can local musicians do to make an impression on the judges among the thousands of song entries?

"I always say nothing in particular, other than just something that just really just commands our attention, whether that's the way the band is playing, whether that's a unique voice, something that sort of stops us in our tracks," said Bobby Carter, the series producer and one of the judges alongside Boilen.

Boilen said they do not judge based on the kind of music they might like, but on the talent in front of them.

"You know when you're sitting in the office and watching it, you know, you want to take it to the desk of your workmates or share with a friend — that's the kind of stuff we're looking for," Boilen said. "Look, not everybody's a winner, but just enter. Do something you're proud of and send it to us. That'll make you feel good inside. Trust me."

Tiny Desk Contest entries must be submitted by March 13. Click here to learn more and watch the latest 2023 entries.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Feb. 23, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1. This interview was adapted for the web by HPR's Sophia McCullough

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation and host of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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