The NPR Tiny Desk Contest

Posted by Maura R

Running a UGC social video campaign is one of the most powerful ways to connect with and grow your audience. UGC video is real, raw, captivating and highly engaging. By inviting people to share their personal story, you encourage them to be part of yours and get to know your audience more intimately and build a relationship, in the process.

“ If a picture paints 1,000 words then one minute of video is worth 1.8 million” - Forrester Research

NPR Music’s 2015 Tiny Desk video contest is a shining example of an incredibly successful social media campaign that garnered nearly 7000 submissions from independent musicians across the country, engaged with thousands and thousands of people across social channels, and exemplified how much their brand values music discovery. Not only did they connect with their audience and drive engagement, they also helped unite and inspired a community of independent musicians that continue to support each other.

NPR Music was so “blown away” by the quality and number of UGC submissions and audience engagement in their first Tiny Desk campaign, that they had to do it again. After managing their first campaign with their own tools, they understood the value and complexity involved. As a result, they selected Strutta as their technology partner and used our new Promotion API to build, launch and manage their 2016 Tiny Desk Contest. The promotion launched on January 12, 2016 and like their first promotion, they invited unsigned music-makers from across the United States to create and upload a short video performing an original song at any desk of their choosing. Video quality was not important. It was all about finding the best new musical talent. In just 3 short weeks, their second Tiny Desk promotion received 6100 high quality video submissions from every state in the nation.

With multiple judging rounds, Tiny Desk’s behind-the-scene’s 2016 competition flow was extremely complex. First, every video needed to be privately viewed and moderated to ensure it met the video submission requirements before proceeding to the preliminary judging round.

Strutta API Management Dashboard

Once accepted, videos were then reviewed by a preliminary panel of judges that included NPR Music staff. Each video was evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • 40% Musical Quality and Appeal
  • 40% Originality
  • 20% Stage Presence and Charisma

Out of 6100 videos, the Preliminary Judges selected the best fifty performers to move on to the Final Judging round. The final Judges included industry experts NPR’s Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Holly Laessig, Jess Wolfe, Son Little, and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and the Arcs. Using the same criteria as the Preliminary Judges, the Final Judges were tasked with selecting just one Grand Prize Winner

“While judging each entry, I’d listen to the song first, then watch the video if I was moved by the music to spend more time with it,” said Judge Robin Hilton, CoHost of All Things Considered.

It was a very thoughtful and rigorous judging process. In the end, 32-year old classically trained fiddler, Gaelynn Lea’s original, moving performance “Someday we will linger in the Sun” rose to the top.


With over 6000 entries and multiple rounds, NPR Music’s Tiny Desk 2016 Contest demonstrates the power and flexibility of Strutta’s API platform. Using our analytics dashboard, NPR Music was able to immediately see all entries and votes and effectively manage their competition using our API platform. You can learn more about Grand Prize winner Gaelynn Lea and view all of the inspiring #TinyDeskContest music performances here.

Interested in running a promotion like this?

Using the Strutta Promotions API, a developer can simply create the interface for your next social media campaign. You only pay for success! Sign-up today for an API Key and access to Full Documentation to help you get started.