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Can you get Tiny Desk Concert tickets? How to attend NPR’s cutest event

Bruno Cooke July 1, 2022
npr tiny desk concert tickets

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Usher visited NPR’s offices for his first ever Tiny Desk Concert this week, prompting curiosity over whether or not tickets to the events are available to the public.

Tiny Desk Concerts started in 2008. It was the brainchild of Bob Boilen and NPR Music editor Stephen Thompson.

Wikipedia has a list of everyone who’s ever performed at NPR’s little desk. The all-star roster includes Olivia Rodrigo and Ed Sheeran, but when it started out it also played host to much smaller names in the business.

How does NPR run its Tiny Desk Concerts – can you get tickets to attend them, or do you have to be invited? Here’s what we know.

National Public Radio

Can you get tickets to attend one of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts?

The short answer is, unfortunately, no. 

The good news, however, is that NPR’s digital news editor, Steve Mullis, once laid out the three ways it’s possible to get into a Tiny Desk Concert. 

First, you can go on a public tour of NPR. This is free, and if you get really lucky, a concert will be taking place at the exact time you’re in the building. 

Of course, this is pretty unlikely, and Mullis concedes: “that is sort of a rare, star-aligning scenario”. But presumably, for him to have mentioned it, it has happened.

Photo by Steve Rogers Photography/Getty Images for SXSW

What are the other two ways to get into an NPR Tiny Desk Concert?

Employees at NPR have the option of attending Tiny Desk Concerts – they are on what Mullis describes as an “internal email list”. It tells them which concerts are coming up so that they can plan which ones they’d like to attend.

They also have the option of inviting someone as a guest. So, if you have a friend who works at NPR, then harangue them for a guest pass. Although, Mullis also adds: Tiny Desk Concerts are “normally in the middle of the workday, which is great for us, bad for friends who work”.

Finally, the third way of attending one of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts – arguably the most difficult, though also the most impressive – is to perform one.

Simply (simply?) enter and win NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest. Then you’ll be able to perform your very own concert, and “get a bunch of great prizes, and even a wonderful video of your performance”.

This year’s winner was Alisa Amador.

Photo by April Greer For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Are there any other alternatives?

If none of the three options detailed above appeals, or is viable, there are one or two other things you can do.

This year, NPR brought Alisa Amador – the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest – to perform at Resident, in LA. Alas, the event has already happened. But tickets were available to the public, so keep an eye out for next year’s equivalent.

Of course, another alternative is to find events similar to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts events for which you can buy tickets. This depends hugely on where you live, but you might find Uproxx’s list of America’s “coolest small music venues” to be a useful starting point.

For anyone residing in, or visiting, the UK, Sofar Sounds might appeal. They organise intimate performances in unusual – often domestic or otherwise not musically specialised – spaces. If you’re really keen, you can even opt to host a concert in your own living room.

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Who played at the first ever Tiny Desk Concert?

The first ever Tiny Desk Concert took place on 22 April 2008. Laura Gibson performed. 

“In a perfect world,” wrote All Things Considered host Bob Boilen, who co-created the series, “there’d be no crowded bar shows or super-sized arena concerts. Musicians would come to your home for a private performance, or they’d show up at your office and play at your desk, easing you through the workday.”

Whether or not he realised quite how monumentally successful the intimate concert series would prove to be is anybody’s guess. But despite their runaway success, Tiny Desk Concerts have stayed broadly true to their roots. 

More than 800 concerts have taken place, as of October 2021. Some of the most popular instalments include performances by Anderson Paak, Tyler, the Creator and Mac Miller.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.