Watch: Black Music Month take over at NPR’s Tiny Desk

Haven't heard of tiny desk? Well, your favorite artist probably has. It's the latest way for musicians to promote their projects.

TheGrio’s Marc Lamont Hill interviewed Bobby Carter from NPR. They discussed how the brand has taken the Tiny Desk from a novelty to a new means of promotion for artists. Caldwell uses Black Music Month as a way to introduce diverse artists and audiences to the platform. The following is a transcript of that conversation:

Marc Lamont Hill Welcome back to The Grio. It is Black Music Month and NPR Tiny Desk is giving us life. I’m talking Charlie Wilson, Tank, Babyface. They all recently dropped their Tiny Desk concerts, and now the best of New Orleans is taking over the set. 

Ambre singing: I’m pulling it out. I want to go dancing. Tonight, it’s a full moon. I follow their bread, Pop, open my eyes. You pick them at random. 

Hill: Ambre’s Tiny desk concert was recently released. The rapper donned a shirt with Juvenile painted on the back. Juvenile, along with Trombone Shorty and Mini fresh are next up to release their Tiny Desk take over. One of the people responsible for it all joins me now. Bobby Carter is a senior producer at NPR Music’s Tiny Desk. My brother, good to see you. Welcome to The Grio. All right. I got a lot of questions for you. I’m real excited about this. But the first thing is, when does Juvie’s Tiny Desk concert drop?

Bobby Carter: We’re going to end with a bang, is going to come out toward the end of the month. As you know, this time last year, we released Usher’s Tiny Desk to wrap up black music. So, you know, we got it’s timely. It’s time to restore the feeling and bring it back. Run it back. 

Hill: I don’t know if anything else tops Usher’s. I mean, he got not only a great set out of it, but an amazing eternal meme and like, fifty internet jokes… so it was fire. But if you will follow it, I mean, Juvenile is a good choice, especially because there was so much controversy in the last month or so. You know, a lot of music controversy, a little buzz, you know, about Essence Fest and, you know, a lot of hip hop and what juvenile represented. So this is a chance for him to show what he represents. 

Carter: One hundred percent. I think the story of how Juvenile has made it at the Tiny Desk is so compelling because black Twitter got him there. Someone tweeted out to him a few weeks ago, a couple of months ago now saying, hey, you should play Tiny Desk. And his reply was. What’s Tiny Desk? and also no.

Carter: Within hours we got a whole lot of replies like, no, you should play Tiny Desk because of this act or you should see this Tiny Desk and this one. So he replied by saying, Hey, okay, okay, I get it, I get it. If this tweet gets 10,000 retweets, I’ll consider. And within a couple of hours it got well over 10,000 retweets and the DMS came my way. And long story short, we made it happen. 

Hill: So that’s sort of an unusual case. What’s a more traditional way or common way that you all go about thinking about or selecting the artists that you want to bring on? 

Carter: Yeah, it’s a two way street when it comes to tiny desks and the artists we bring. Each producer, including myself, we have to be passionate about that artist. It doesn’t matter how many social followers they have. It doesn’t matter how big the artist is or how. If the artist is emerging, we just have to love it. So it in terms of outreach, I can reach out to an artist that I love and say, hey, play Tiny Desk. And then, of course, you have a lot of artists coming our way, emailing us, reaching out, submitting and pitching their own tiny desks, their own opportunity to play Tiny Desk. Because, I mean, let’s face it, this has become an engine and a tool for so many musicians to promote their music and really show off what they can do right at the desk. 

Hill: No, it’s definitely a great vehicle. I was wondering do they even get paid? I know like with Versus battles at the beginning it was like they not getting paid, but they were getting so many streams and so much attention that it made sense. Tiny Desk definitely makes sense. I just spent the weekend watching Babyface and Charlie Wilson and oh, and I just saw Tank’s this morning and I and I was thinking like, yo, this makes me want to go stream their music more. Do the artists get anything else out of it? Is is there a check attached or is it just like the long game? 

Carter: No. You know. We’re public radio. So no, no money is exchanged to supply the time. Yes, but like you said, you’re going and you watch a tiny desk, you’re going to stream it. You’re going to stream the album. So there’s definitely a tiny desk effect once an artist plays a tiny desk and, you know, I don’t have the exact numbers, but I would assume, you know, streaming numbers spike. You know, again, going back to Usher last year when he played, you know, after that, he extended the the Vegas residency. So that’s definitely a huge benefit on both sides when it comes to an artist playing the desk. 

Hill: Is there a certain kind of profile you look for in an artist? You know, I know you want someone popular. Are you looking for someone who can do live music well? Or someone who can actually sing or rap and do whatever it is. You don’t want no lip syncers or auto tuners. But like, is there anything else you looking for in terms of the profile, the type of artist you want? 

Carter: No. It can be anybody. Me? I’m a music lover across the board. So for me, I just have to love the music. Whenever an artist pitches, say, hey, we want an artist. We want our artist to play Tiny Desk, the first thing I’m looking and the first thing I’m going to ask is send me the music. I have to be in love with the music. And then next, like you said, can they perform live? Can they cut it? Because the thing about Tiny Desk that makes it so compelling when it comes to other loud music platforms is that it’s completely stripped down. It’s really, really intimate. We strip away the bells and whistles. They aren’t able to hear themselves, the monitors and that kind of stuff. So they have to be able to really, really perform and really be able to sing. And the band has to really be able to play because they can’t hide behind anything. So it’s do we love the music and can they perform? Those are the two things. 

Hill: I’mma tell you some of my favorites and you tell me who yours are. So I loved Raphael Saadiq on there. I’m a huge Gregory Porter fan. I thought he killed it. I thought Usher was great. I’m going to give you those three right now. Who is who is some of the two or three favorites that you’ve seen so far? 

Carter: Yeah, well, recently I’ve been, you know, I’ve been lucky and blessed enough to be around since the beginning, and I’ve seen, you know, the best of them. But recently, as an artist by the name of Duran Bernard, who put on one of the most exciting performances, not only from the vocals and what he did, you know, in terms of how it sounded, but visually it was stunning. He came with the you know, you had the whole band dressed like Disney’s “The Proud Family.” And he just he really, really delivered. And he really you can tell when an artist really studies other shows and tries to come up with their own angle on how they can do things. But then you have the other classics like of course, Anderson PAC, Mac Miller’s Sesame Street is one that I that I love to this day because it was such a special day and everybody in the building was turned into little kids and went back to that child when they used to watch Sesame Street. So there’s tons of them man. We recently had Bono and the adds from U2. So, so, so, so many great performances, man. And, you know, like you said, the audience is a few feet away. That’s such a rare thing for an audience to be able to see their favorite artist so up close and personal and really be able to see what they can do without anything in the way. 

Hill: Yeah, I love it. Another thing I love about y’all is that y’all show, black artists.  Not just during Black Music Month, but it could be November, it could be August, it could be December. Y’all going to show black people.You respect black music, you highlight black music, and it really makes me feel good about what y’all are up to. I want to thank you for joining me, my brother. I can’t wait to see Juvenile. I can’t wait to see some of my favorite artists of all time be on there because I know what’s going to happen.

Carter: Ready, man. Brother, thank you so much. 

Hill: My appreciation.. the pleasure’s mine, brother. 

Learn more about NPR’S tiny desk initiative  from the clip above, and tune into theGrio with Marc Lamont Hill every weeknight at 7 pm ET on theGrio cable channel.