David Marques: ASMR, it’s a phenomenon that's grown and spread during the pandemic, It stands for autonomous sensory meridian response which refers to the tingling sensation listeners say they feel as they hear recordings of ambient sounds like tapping, whispering and drinks being poured. It often come in the form of Youtube videos.
Montage: Tapping, hi there, pouring.
Marques: During 2020 there were 11 million monthly Google searches for ASMR. Emily Schutz spoke with creators to find out how to succeed as an ASMR Artist.
Emily Schutz: Searches for ASMR are at an all-time high. The calming effects likely drove the surge in interest during a stressful time, globally.
The popularity is the reason Maryland resident Kelly Lewis recently made ASMR her full-time job. She began producing her own ASMR content part-time after she listened to other creators to destress back in 2016. Now, she has over 70,000 subscribers on Youtube.
Kelly Lewis: Hello, hello, hello, hey there, hey there, hey there hey can you focus for me can you focus for me hello hello hello.
Schutz: People will pay for tingles. Top creators earn over 1 million dollars per year. Some have grown so successful that they have managers and publicists to help them navigate their PR. Other artists go to people’s homes and perform live. Providing a completely customized experience. There are also other opportunities to do ASMR as a career. Even Warner Music produces ASMR content.
Although Lewis, known online as Kelly Belly ASMR, doesn’t make a million dollars, the pandemic brought her financial stability.
Lewis: I like kind of knew that it was going to be something that would be able to support me financially, like, at least until I found something a little bit more substantial. I think for a lot of people who have a lot of subscribers, and a lot of viewers like they definitely are doing fine. Like, that's definitely a lucrative career for people.
Schutz: She acknowledges that the past few tumultuous years boosted a lot of ASMR Artist or ASMRtists’ careers, including her own.
Lewis: I saw during the pandemic, I think there was a lot of need for ASMR. And so there were a lot of creators that came onto the scene.
Schutz: They were trying to keep up with demand from viewers like Ines Leong.
Leong is a photographer based in New York City. She started listening to recordings of typing, tapping, and whispering, during the pandemic to simulate human connection and to fall asleep.
Ines Leong: ASMR videos start showing up, especially for coworking environments, people whispering because you missed that interaction. I miss interacting with strangers, you know?
Schutz: So anecdotally ASMR calms people down and helps those like Leong who’d otherwise be tossing and turning all night, to do this.
Schutz: Carl Bazil is a neurology professor at Columbia University specializing in sleep disorders. He calls ASMR a tool that could conceivably help the busy mind.
Carl Bazil: ASMR, and things like it are kind of a form of self-hypnosis, you're concentrating on something else, and distracting your own brain, which is really the trick. And there's no magic to that particular technique, I tend to give people a whole list of things to try. I do have a couple of the YouTube clips of ASMR. I’m like you can try this.
Schutz: Still there’s not much concrete research on the benefits ASMR or why it works. Regardless, ASMR creators like Kelly Belly seem to have figured out what their viewers like and how to succeed.
Lewis: And like, during that time, a bunch of people just like went crazy with subscribers.
Schutz: On Youtube, the more subscribers you have the more money you earn through ads, selling merchandise like t-shirts and tumblers with logos on them, and brand partnerships. Brands reach out to creators to market their products. Often times these brands focus on relaxation and wellness like Kindred Black, which sells a $125 jar of Tranquility body oil
ASMR YouTuber: Kindred Black makes a variety of oils, perfumes, salves and different natural treatments.
Schutz: Andrew Smith teaches marketing at Suffolk University. He’s studied ASMR.
Andrew Smith: One of the interesting things about ASMR is that it's such kind of a broad blank slate as a medium for creation, it's, it provides a lot of opportunities for any sort of product that can kind of play a role in delivering that experience that ASMR creators are hoping to provide for their audiences.
Schutz: ASMRtists whisper brand deals as listeners drift off to sleep. Kelly Belly works with a perfume brand.
Lewis: Before we get into the video I want to thank today’s sponsor Scentbird. So I have a little clip I want to show you guys Scentbird. I want to show you the three things that they sent me.
Schutz: These methods aren’t a particularly steady source of income for Kelly Belly so she also has a Patreon, where people buy custom videos and gain access to exclusive ASMR content. But in order to make money in these ways, creators first have to produce good content. Jennifer Beizel AKA Jenn Again ASMR on Youtube is a smaller creator in the tri-state area, with a little over 5000 subscribers. But the content she offers is different from the typical view of ASMR as a source of stress relief. She says her most popular videos feature a “mean girl” roleplay, specifically one titled Sassy Halloween Demon Stuffs you with Candy did well.
Jennifer Beizel: Allow me to introduce myself. I am the demon Ignificus.
Schutz: The more outlandish the content gets, the better it performs.
Beizel: I realize people like videos where people are like, mean, And my sister pulled up one where she was like, yeah, they call her like sassy or whatever. But it's like, she's just being rude to the viewer. And I was like, No way. And so I sort of put out one, I think it was winter. It was like goth girlfriend is like rude to you or I don't know, something like that. And that one also shot up really fast.
Schutz: Right now Jen Again is a dance teacher and doesn’t make much money from Youtube, but she hopes that will eventually change. As she’s continued to create content she’d invested in equipment to improve the quality of her videos. Cameras, microphones, lighting equipment. She spent upwards of $1000 on her equipment, ASMR fans can differentiate between what makes a good and bad video. Emma Stivil is an ASMR fan who likes whispering videos. She’s also a musical theatre major at NYU who appreciates high production values.
Emma Stivil: Like as you improve and keep working, your setup will improve and you can afford like better microphones, better quality, but you know something as simple as like turning off the AC in the background.
Schutz: Stivil says she thinks high, or even decent production values make all the difference. Viewers say quality is important, but they also care about the content and that’s where each ASMRtist differs. Some creators do comedy, others type on a keyboard. Jen Again does mean girl. Kelly Belly says she specializes in aggressive ASMR like this.
Lewis: I kinda kinda kinda kinda kinda kinda like that though. It was so different than the regular slow stuff and I felt like it was it more matched my personality and like what I would want to bring to the table in terms of ASMR, so I was like Kelly like this is your chance, like you gotta get in there before this blows up.
Schutz: Kelly Belly was ahead of the crowd when she started in 2016. At the time there were an estimated 50,000 ASMR YouTube channels. Now it’s estimated that there are around 500,000. Each creator is trying to stand out and make a living.
Thanks for listening, thanks for listening, thanks for listening…
Emily Schutz, Columbia Radio News.