When the Tiny Desk Contest team is looking through entry videos, we're often impressed by where artists take us. This year, for example, we've already seen a brass band performing in a forest (using a redwood stump as a desk), a small orchestra stuffed into an office space and a lot of plants.
But really, all it takes to enter the Contest is a song and a desk. We know that right now, artists who want to enter the Contest might be working under less-than-ideal circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic. But it's still possible to film a great Tiny Desk Contest entry even if you're currently at home by yourself, as so many of us are. (Need proof? Our 2018 winner, Naia Izumi, filmed his entry by himself in his garage.)
So, in the spirit of getting creative during the era of social distancing, we asked for some advice from three people who know what it takes to make a performance behind a desk stand out. Josh Rogosin, NPR Music's technical director, is responsible for Tiny Desk concerts' top-notch audio quality. Morgan Noelle Smith, a video producer for the Tiny Desk series, makes the videos look beautiful. And Bob Boilen, of course, is the man whose very desk is the setting for Tiny Desk concerts.
Here are their tips for filming a Tiny Desk Contest entry by yourself:
- Choose the right space. Find a quiet and visually interesting spot to make your recording — and don't forget to include a desk! —JR
- Find a window. We usually record Tiny Desk concerts with no extra lights, just window light — and that will likely be enough for your entry, too. As you set up, make sure the light is facing you instead of positioning yourself directly in front of the light. (Keeping overhead lights on is fine, too.) —MS
- Test your audio first. Try to position your recording device or microphone so listeners can hear vocals and lyrics clearly above instrumentation — and then make a test recording and adjust the placement (and your performance) based on what you hear. —JR
- Be conscious of your angle. Setting your recording device on the ground in front of you might give us a weird angle; try to move a little further away for a nice wide shot. You can set up a DIY tripod with a table and shoebox to help achieve this, too. —MS
- Check yourself out. When I'm filming Tiny Desks, the No. 1 thing I think about is: How can I see everybody performing? If a viewer can hear a sound, I want to make sure they can see where that sound is coming from. Once you've set up your camera (or phone), check out the frame to make sure we can see everything we're hearing in your entry. —MS
- Connect with your audience. It's one thing to write a great song, to take words and music and be expressive — but it really also helps to look at me (i.e. the camera). Look at your audience. Think about the people you're conveying your message and your song to. —BB
- Show us what you've got. Record a few takes and choose the one that captures the energy or emotion of the song, not necessarily the one that's technically flawless. —JR
- Have fun with it. This one speaks for itself. Good luck! —BB
One last thing: What matters most is your song. The Contest judges won't be selecting a winner based on the quality of an entry's video or audio; they'll be looking for a song that truly stands out.
Unsigned artists can enter the Tiny Desk Contest until April 27 at 11:59 p.m. ET.