Photo by Julia Sklar

I grew up listening to NPR in the car as my mom drove me to preschool every morning, and while I don’t think I really appreciated listening to political expostulations at the ripe age of four, something about NPR’s allure must have stuck because I now regularly turn my attention to their online music section. Many things about it are enticing: There is free Internet radio, live streams of concerts that are either too far away or too expensive to attend, advanced previews of unreleased but highly anticipated albums and even a Song of the Day blog. But, undoubtedly, the best facet of NPR Music online is the series Tiny Desk Concerts. These are 10-minute-long videos of some of the world’s best (and sometimes virtually unknown) artists performing acoustic versions of what they consider to be their best work.

The set up of Tiny Desk Concerts has the ability to transform musicians from people to whom you normally only have auditory access, to thoughtful musicians you can hear and see in their rawest, most focused form. The “concerts” are filmed in a small office whose bookshelves are overflowing with CDs and other musical relics and whose walls are plastered in artsy posters. The lighting is always soft and bright, and no one else except the band or artist ever enters the frame — only occasionally you’ll hear someone talking off screen to the performers. The overall effect of these aesthetic choices is that you, as the viewer, feel like you accidentally just walked into the home of a great musician and are a fly-on-the-wall observer of someone’s private moment with his or her art.

Sometimes I seek out Tiny Desk Concerts if I know that a musician I enjoy will be featured — most recently this was Foster the People — but other times I use the series to find out about new artists, such as Local Natives or James Vincent McMorrow. Because of their intimate feel, Tiny Desk Concerts renew the idea that music is an art, not just an industry.

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