Bob Boilen

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.

Significant listener interest in the music being played on All Things Considered, along with his and NPR's vast music collections, gave Boilen the idea to start All Songs Considered. "It was obvious to me that listeners of NPR were also lovers of music, but what also became obvious by 1999 was that the web was going to be the place to discover new music and that we wanted to be the premiere site for music discovery." The show launched in 2000, with Boilen as its host.

Before coming to NPR, Boilen found many ways to share his passion for music. From 1982 to 1986 he worked for Baltimore's Impossible Theater, where he held many posts, including composer, technician, and recording engineer. Boilen became part of music history in 1983 with the Impossible Theater production Whiz Bang, a History of Sound. In it, Boilen became one of the first composers to use audio sampling — in this case, sounds from nature and the industrial revolution. He was interviewed about Whiz Bang by Susan Stamberg on All Things Considered.

In 1985, the Washington City Paper voted Boilen 'Performance Artist of the Year.' An electronic musician, he received a grant from the Washington D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to work on electronic music and performance.

After Impossible Theater, Boilen worked as a producer for a television station in Washington, D.C. He produced several projects, including a music video show. In 1997, he started producing an online show called Science Live for the Discovery Channel. He also put out two albums with his psychedelic band, Tiny Desk Unit, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Boilen still composes and performs music and posts it for free on his website BobBoilen.info. He performs contradance music and has a podcast of contradance music that he produces with his son Julian.

Boilen's first book, Your Song Changed My Life, will be published in April 2016 by HarperCollins.

Have you ever watched a Tiny Desk Concert and thought, "Hey, I want to do that!?" Well, now's your chance to play behind my desk here at NPR. That's right: We're bringing NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest back for a second year.

Here's what you do.

When Alejandro Rose-Garcia, aka Shakey Graves, breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

When I first saw this Denver trio on its home turf last spring, I was swiftly drawn into its mysterious swirl. Martina Grbac sings quietly, and her voice — echoing and effects-laden — sits nicely on top of her percussive cello, James Han's textures and Ross Harada's perfectly placed percussion.

The moment Brooklyn soul singer Sharon Jones sang the line, "We're cooking up the brisket the kosher butcher sold my uncle Saul," I knew the world had a new Hanukkah classic. This week, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings played a special, holiday-themed Tiny Desk Concert that included this new song, "8 Days (Of Hanukkah)."

This essay first appeared in the 2010 book This Is NPR: The First Forty Years, a collection of writing by NPR staff and contributors.


I should have cared more, but I didn't. I should have cried, but I didn't.

He meant so much to me.

But the day John Lennon died, my life and his music were never more distant.

When The Oh Hellos piled out of a van at NPR, someone remarked that it was like a clown car: Band members just kept coming, including brother and sister Tyler and Maggie Heath and their mom. They were all road-weary, trading sniffles, coughs and more. But the nine-piece group brought anthemic joy to the Tiny Desk in the form of buoyant songs whose underpinnings could still be dark and lonely.

Lizzo, Live In Concert

Dec 1, 2015

The music of 27-year-old rapper Melissa Jefferson, who goes by the name Lizzo on stage, is full of soul. Though she spent much of her life in Houston, she's become a favorite in her adopted hometown of Minneapolis, working with members of the Doomtree collective and showing up on Prince's 2014 album Plectrumelectrum.

In 2009, The Dry Spells released Too Soon For Flowers, a folky rock album that became an instant best friend. Then, as far as I could tell, they vanished. But now there's new music from this Bay Area ensemble, a song called "Heliotrope," and I feel like an old buddy came to town for the holidays.

I asked about the long absence and guitarist Adria Ott wrote this back:

Great singers aren't easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special. The Wild Reeds' music shines when Sharon Silva, Kinsey Lee and Mackenzie Howe harmonize, but each also takes a leading role — and that's the power of the L.A. band, whose songs are clear and memorable, potent and sometimes delicate.

Nathaniel Rateliff and his band The Night Sweats are on fire, with concerts that get feet moving and bodies swaying, fueled by rhythm and booze.

Ask a Bruce Springsteen fan about the holy grails of his concerts and you're likely to hear about a 1980 Tempe, Ariz. show. Today NPR Music has video of Springsteen performing "The River" from that very concert. The brilliant performance — or at least much of it — was recorded using four cameras and a multitrack machine for audio. It's all been put together and is being released 35 years later as part of a new box set called The Ties That Bind: The River Collection.

Brian Burton has good taste. As Danger Mouse, he's won five Grammy Awards and worked with everyone from the Black Keys to Gorillaz to Adele. Now the musician, songwriter and producer is adding another impressive project to his resume: his own record label.

The first time I saw Aurora sing, it appeared so new to her that each note, and each hand gesture accompanying each note, seemed like a discovery and an adventure for the singer. She was 18 when I first saw her in New York City, and now the Norwegian singer is 19; take a look at this Tiny Desk Concert, and her sense of innocence and discovery still rings as true as ever.

My bubba is the duo of Sweden's My and Iceland's Bubba, women whose quirky, delicate, sweetly sung folk songs are a delight. The centerpiece of their tunes are the harmonies, but the backing instrumentation is equally intimate, from handclaps to an old table harp and acoustic guitar.

The pair's current album, Goes Abroader, was produced by Noah Georgeson, who's known for his work with Joanna Newsom, Cate Le Bon and Devendra Banhart. As for this Tiny Desk Concert, it's best viewed on a comfy couch, perhaps snuggled up with a friend, your favorite animal or both.

What is it like to sing songs almost 50 years after first writing and recording them? How does it feel to make your most creative work only to have it ignored? I wondered about these questions when I went and talked with Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, two of the original members of The Zombies. They were in town with all the surviving members of their original band to perform their long overlooked, now classic 1968 album, Odessey and Oracle in full alongside earlier hits like "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No" and songs from their 2015 album Still Got The Hunger.

Martin Atkins, a drummer, producer and professor, weaves the terrifying tale of any musicians' personal horror in this spooky Halloween installment of The Martin Atkins Minute, an occasional series in our All Songs +1 podcast.

I have found myself watching and re-watching this video over and over since I first saw it. It takes a simple idea — a story that unfolds via paper cut with an X-Acto knife and backlit to create intricate and stunning silhouettes — and shapes it into something that honestly feels divine.

It was a moment of television magic. I heard a brand new song from my favorite band and saw them on film, walking around and riding horses. If the expression "my mind was blown" had been created, I'd have phoned up my friends and told them that. All I can remember saying to my friends after seeing The Beatles' "Penny Lane" film is, "That was boss!" And now that film is back and more beautiful than ever.

Le Volume Courbe is the music of Charlotte Marionneau and her friends. On her second album those friends include names you'll know, like Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine, and names you'll want to know, like Melanie Draisey, Chris Mackin, Lascelle Gordon and more.

The first time I saw 10-piece Houston big band The Suffers, it was at a small venue in Washington, D.C., called DC9. The club was barely big enough to contain all the horns, guitars and percussion, not to mention the undeniable force of the music.

Listen to this conversation and you'll feel like you're sitting in an airport lounge eavesdropping on two smart, funny, mutually-admiring musicians.

There's a lot of mediocrity to sort through when you hop from one club to another during a festival like the CMJ Music Marathon, five days during which bands flock to New York. So when I find stuff that stands out, that pushes the inevitable evolutionary boundaries of rock, I get really happy.

I've seen Oh Pep! four times in three cities in the past month, and needless to say, the Melbourne band's music is infectious. Oh Pep gets its Oh from Olivia Hally (vocals, guitar) and its Pep! from Pepita Emmerichs (violin, mandolin). These Australians fit well in Nashville during an Americana music festival, as they played fiddles and mandolins alongside guitars, bass and drums. Their harmonies are sweet, with lyrics that are thoughtful, deep, funny and poetic.

The way we listen to music evolves constantly. From wax cylinder recordings all the way through to today's streaming services, formats have come a long way. What's next? What does this unending metamorphosis say about the music industry? And what does any of this have to do with Robert De Niro?

My rule when booking Tiny Desk Concerts is to see artists live before they come to the office. I've heard many a great record only to be disappointed by a live show. But when I heard Andra Day sing "Forever Mine" from her album Cheers To The Fall, I decided to break my rule, sight unseen.

Deqn Sue rose above a crowd of close to 7,000 entries and almost won our Tiny Desk Concert Contest earlier this year. I so loved her song and her performance of "Magenta" that I invited Deqn Sue — along with her producer, Kelvin Wooten — to my desk to perform that song and more.

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