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Anatomy Of The Tiny Desk

The area around Bob Boilen's desk in the NPR Music office has become a favorite performance space for musicians traveling through Washington, D.C. i i

hide captionThe area around Bob Boilen's desk in the NPR Music office has become a favorite performance space for musicians traveling through Washington, D.C.

Katie Burk/NPR
The area around Bob Boilen's desk in the NPR Music office has become a favorite performance space for musicians traveling through Washington, D.C.

The area around Bob Boilen's desk in the NPR Music office has become a favorite performance space for musicians traveling through Washington, D.C.

Katie Burk/NPR

When Bob Boilen and Stephen Thompson at NPR Music began the Tiny Desk Concerts a few years ago, they had no idea they were launching what would become a choice performance spot for both fans and musicians. Bob's workspace, like some of the best venues, is beloved for its character and the vibe it creates in addition to the talent it features. You can immediately recognize where in the world a musician is standing when you see those tightly packed wooden shelves in the background.

So if you're like us, it invites the question: What exactly is all that stuff back there?

We spoke with the Tiny Desk curators Boilen and Thompson, along with Boilen's All Songs Considered co-host Robin Hilton, about the eclectic mix of items on those shelves and discovered it's not just a random assortment of clutter. Turns out, the Tiny Desk collection embodies something fundamental to all things NPR: stories. Scroll through the slideshow to discover how these items became ornaments of the Tiny Desk.

Take a photo tour of the Tiny Desk in the slideshow below, with stories and descriptions of the souvenirs and items adorning the performance space from members of the NPR Music team. i i

hide captionTake a photo tour of the Tiny Desk in the slideshow below, with stories and descriptions of the souvenirs and items adorning the performance space from members of the NPR Music team.

Katie Burk/NPR
Take a photo tour of the Tiny Desk in the slideshow below, with stories and descriptions of the souvenirs and items adorning the performance space from members of the NPR Music team.

Take a photo tour of the Tiny Desk in the slideshow below, with stories and descriptions of the souvenirs and items adorning the performance space from members of the NPR Music team.

Katie Burk/NPR
  • Emmy Award — NPR Music won this prize in 2011 for the Project Song episode with Moby and Kelli Scarr. As you can see, it's prominently placed on the desk as a point of pride — and, um, Bob's hat rack.
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    Emmy Award — NPR Music won this prize in 2011 for the Project Song episode with Moby and Kelli Scarr. As you can see, it's prominently placed on the desk as a point of pride — and, um, Bob's hat rack.
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Tiny Desk Diorama — This is one of the most creative submissions All Songs Considered has received over the years. Even if it doesn't get your music on the show, efforts like this earn a special place with the team.
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    Tiny Desk Diorama — This is one of the most creative submissions All Songs Considered has received over the years. Even if it doesn't get your music on the show, efforts like this earn a special place with the team.
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Vintage Beatles Dolls — Bob has had these vinyl Fab Four dolls since he was a teenager. Paul, unfortunately, is a little worse for wear after getting knocked down during a particularly rowdy concert.
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    Vintage Beatles Dolls — Bob has had these vinyl Fab Four dolls since he was a teenager. Paul, unfortunately, is a little worse for wear after getting knocked down during a particularly rowdy concert.
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Toy Musical Instruments — These once belonged to Bob's son. After Bob and Stephen had the idea for Tiny Desk Concerts, the All Songs Considered host brought them into the office, and many musicians have since used them during their performances here.
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    Toy Musical Instruments — These once belonged to Bob's son. After Bob and Stephen had the idea for Tiny Desk Concerts, the All Songs Considered host brought them into the office, and many musicians have since used them during their performances here.
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Tiny Desk Unit Album — If you didn't know, the name Tiny Desk Concerts is a sly reference to Bob's old band Tiny Desk Unit. Here's the group's record from 1980. The shelves also hold a 2006 CD from the group.
    Hide caption
    Tiny Desk Unit Album — If you didn't know, the name Tiny Desk Concerts is a sly reference to Bob's old band Tiny Desk Unit. Here's the group's record from 1980. The shelves also hold a 2006 CD from the group.
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Sleigh Bells — Robin hates the sound of sleigh bells. Naturally, Bob used to torture him with some when they sat beside each other. Robin took them and hid them, but after Bob reported the theft on their show, a "heartless" — according to Robin — listener sent replacement bells. Another sent the team a note that read, "Give the old man back his bells. That's totally messed up."
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    Sleigh Bells — Robin hates the sound of sleigh bells. Naturally, Bob used to torture him with some when they sat beside each other. Robin took them and hid them, but after Bob reported the theft on their show, a "heartless" — according to Robin — listener sent replacement bells. Another sent the team a note that read, "Give the old man back his bells. That's totally messed up."
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Sounds of the Rainforest Smoke Alarm — This gag gift box, once sold by The Onion, came packed with books for Stephen Thompson and sports the NPR shoutout: "For an additional $9.99 a month, you can have an operator, trained by National Public Radio, call to make sure everything is okay."
    Hide caption
    Sounds of the Rainforest Smoke Alarm — This gag gift box, once sold by The Onion, came packed with books for Stephen Thompson and sports the NPR shoutout: "For an additional $9.99 a month, you can have an operator, trained by National Public Radio, call to make sure everything is okay."
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • All Songs Considered Art — This fun and striking work sent in by musician/artist Leo Blais immortalizes All Songs Considered, as well as Bob's and Robin's names, in cardboard (yep, it's made from cardboard).
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    All Songs Considered Art — This fun and striking work sent in by musician/artist Leo Blais immortalizes All Songs Considered, as well as Bob's and Robin's names, in cardboard (yep, it's made from cardboard).
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Drawing by Nellie McKay — After participating in Project Song, the singer-songwriter gave Bob this colorful piece depicting how much she enjoyed the Indian food that he'd used to entice her to write more during the three-day creative process.
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    Drawing by Nellie McKay — After participating in Project Song, the singer-songwriter gave Bob this colorful piece depicting how much she enjoyed the Indian food that he'd used to entice her to write more during the three-day creative process.
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Picture of Bob With Tiny Desk Unit — This photo captures a big moment for Bob: his first time in a recording studio.
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    Picture of Bob With Tiny Desk Unit — This photo captures a big moment for Bob: his first time in a recording studio.
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Handheld Transistor Radio — This radio is the same model as the first radio Bob owned as a kid. He ordered the original in 1964 with $5 and a Listerine coupon. (Have we stumbled upon an early version of Fresh Air?)
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    Handheld Transistor Radio — This radio is the same model as the first radio Bob owned as a kid. He ordered the original in 1964 with $5 and a Listerine coupon. (Have we stumbled upon an early version of Fresh Air?)
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Assorted Teas — The team keeps a selection on hand for artists who play the Tiny Desk, including a handy Erase Your Past blend.
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    Assorted Teas — The team keeps a selection on hand for artists who play the Tiny Desk, including a handy Erase Your Past blend.
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • Musician Souvenirs — Bob, Robin and Stephen are a nostalgic bunch, as you can probably tell from this list. Since there aren't ticket stubs for the Tiny Desk, they often save "souvenirs" from their guests. Here, you're looking at Adele's water bottle and Lyle Lovett's coffee. See more in the next photo.
    Hide caption
    Musician Souvenirs — Bob, Robin and Stephen are a nostalgic bunch, as you can probably tell from this list. Since there aren't ticket stubs for the Tiny Desk, they often save "souvenirs" from their guests. Here, you're looking at Adele's water bottle and Lyle Lovett's coffee. See more in the next photo.
    Katie Burk/NPR
  • More souvenirs from musical guests, including Daniel Johnston's cookie, Laura Marling's coffee, Ben Gibbard's water and Jason Lytle's beer.
    Hide caption
    More souvenirs from musical guests, including Daniel Johnston's cookie, Laura Marling's coffee, Ben Gibbard's water and Jason Lytle's beer.
    Katie Burk/NPR

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Again, this is just a handful of our favorites from the collection. If you've noticed something in the background and wondered about it, feel free to let us know in the comments section. We'll try to investigate.

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