I’ve started a new project.

I’m watching all of the Tiny Desk Concert videos.

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but it’s kind of killing me on the inside.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Tiny Desk Concert series is produced by NPR Music, where Bob Boilen invites a musical artist or group to play a small concert from behind his desk. The word “tiny” does not refer to the size of the desk. Very misleading, I know. It’s actually derived from the name of Bob’s former band, Tiny Desk Unit. I was disappointed too.

Despite this minor letdown, I love Tiny Desk Concerts. For a good number of my favorite artists, when you type their name into the YouTube search bar, one of the top results is their Tiny Desk Concert. I found that these little segments are perfect for introducing friends to a new band: you avoid having to choose one song by which to define the band, deciding whether to show them a low-quality live video or the more-polished-less-awesome recorded version, and you often get to see part of the band’s personality, just like you would at a “real” concert.

But what I didn’t realize until I started watching them all is that even though a lot of artists I like have Tiny Desk Concerts, I did not actually find any of them by first watching their Tiny Desk Concerts, and also there are a lot more concerts than just those by artists I like. Up until this point, I would naively says things like “I never met a Tiny Desk Concert I didn’t like,” but that’s probably because I mainly clicked on concerts where the artist was already familiar.

Turns out, when I watch one hundred sequential videos instead of twenty particular videos, I find plenty to not like.

But the facts remain: I decided I was going to watch all the Tiny Desk Concerts, I told one person I was going to do it, and now I have to do it, because the one person I told also happens to be the person who is going to be my husband in approximately five months so now would probably not be a good time to start flaking on my commitments.

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that most of the concerts I just listen to, as opposed to actually watching, because I have other things that demand my attention, and also I didn’t want to spend three years on this project. More often than I wish to admit, I find myself listening to one and wishing that I could get to the next one, hoping that it will be a new band I’ve never heard of but absolutely LOVE, that I’ll get to witness rich banter between the —performers, that if nothing else—it will be better. I scan ahead to see when the next artist I do actually know is going to come up, in search of a respite from the unknown and the not-so-appreciated.

I foolishly believed that my love of the concept of the Tiny Desk Concert would be enough to make me love the majority of the Tiny Desk Concerts. I am here to say that I was mistaken. Part of desire to begin this undertaking was to be able to craft a definitive list of The Best Tiny Desk Concerts (and unlike Will Montei’s Unargueable Top 10 List of the Best Christmas Songs of All Time, I wanted it to be built on more than just whimsy). But now I don’t know if I can bring myself to do so, because I fear it will only be a list of bands I already liked, a list of videos I had already watched, and the only thing discovered from this experience would not be new bands to love, but instead the realization that musical appreciation is not for the faint of ears

100 down. 168* (and counting) to go. Wish me luck.


*There are actually around 400 Tiny Desk Concerts, but I’m working with the number that are available for viewing on YouTube.


  1. Will

    I think that you should still write a definitive top 10 list. There might be a new video that takes you by surprise. And even if it ends up being all the same bands you already listen to, you’ll be adding to a conversation and introducing people to new things. So keep listening, and write the list!

    Also, my list was built on far more than whimsy! Classes could be taught, and maybe should be taught, on my methodical approach to the top 10 list form.

    • Catherine

      Thanks for the encouragement, Will. Now I feel bad about the “whimsy” comment. Your approach is so perfectly methodical that I mistook it for effortlessness.


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