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Credit: by curtis.kennington on Flickr. Some rights reserved
NPR Music, a branch of National Public Radio in the US, has achieved an online presence and audience that "totally exceeds" the traditional radio output.

Speaking at the Next Radio conference in London today, Anya Grundmann, director and executive producer of NPR Music, explained how the outlet's central idea was thinking of ways to "connect with audiences".

When NPR Music first came to the online space, she said, the first instinct was to "take everything from the radio and stick it online" but found it was an approach that "didn't really work".

"What we've been trying to do with NPR Music over the last six or seven years is try to take the essence of what's on the radio on the music end, and how to create an engaging experience for our audience," she added.

Below are three examples of how NPR Music is engaging its audience.

1. Make audiences feel special

NPR Music places a lot of emphasis on "creating an intentional ongoing relationship with the audience", something Grundmann believes is easier to achieve with a series of content, rather than "one-offs".

"I think as we're struggling to connect in this world of digital, the tendency is to flail and do a lot of one-offs and I've found its very successful to create frameworks where we can explore an ongoing relationship."

NPR Music has taken advantage of its position and musical connections to create a truly unique experience for listeners with its Tiny Desk Concerts, which have gained something of a cult following in their own right.

Although the outlet has studios where artists can perform, the Tiny Desk series sees musicians play an intimate gig while seated at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen.

The concerts are laid-back – "nobody has a mic in their face" said Grundmann – often acoustic and less than 20 minutes long.

Adele and Chvrches are among the artists who have taken part (Adele's has received more than two million views on YouTube).

The idea was to create "something spontaneous, that they won't hear anywhere else, that feels really special" explained Grundmann.

2. Engage the local community

Content that involves and engages the audience is a way of making them feel valued, as well as being an effective way of garnering support for a new project.

When NPR member station launched an app, one of the features was the Austin Music Map – an interactive map where users in the local community could post content related to the capital city's famed music scene.

Off the back of this emerged MapJam, a free one-day music festival across various venues in Austin where music fans are encouraged to add add audio and photos to the map using the hashtag #austinmusicmap.

"Now the station has social media, an event, and a digital application that really make sense together," said Grundmann of the multi-platform experience.

Not only has this made the audience feel more "essential" by involving them in the event, it has also "really energised the community", she said.

Austin Music Map
Caption: Screengrab from

3. Offer something exclusive

Another way to make audiences feel valued, as well as gaining the edge over your competitors, is to offer them something they cannot get anywhere else.

First Listen allows NPR Music listeners to preview and discuss new music without paying for it.

It came about five years ago, when Sony approached NPR Music with a new Bob Dylan album looking for a new way for users to legitimately share music.

Now there are many such sites which offer this, including Spotify and SoundCloud, but at the time it was a pioneering idea.

The idea of "sharing exclusives" when it comes to music ties in with NPR's central focus of "creating ongoing experiences and being useful", said Grundmann.

"Something NPR aims to do is share music recommendations, share a connection with music, and help people navigate a very confusing, overwhelming world," she added.

Another way NPR Music is offering its audience a sneak peak at new sounds is with a regular download from guest DJs across America, featuring their music recommendations.

In keeping with NPR Music's multi-platform approach, NPR stations are now including these recommendations in their music news, she said.

Grundmann emphasised that news outlets must be "willing to move" to keep up with changes in the digital landscape.

"We want to use platforms for what they're good at, we want to hold the essence of the connection we're trying to make and the experiences we're trying to create, but be willing to pivot."

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