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TEAM ZOELLA JANUARY 18, 2022

The Fascinating World of ASMR and the ASMRtists Who Live in It

From hair brushing, mic scratching, applying skincare or even unwrapping a lint roller, gentle ASMR videos have cemented themselves as the ultimate easy-listening material with legions of fans and creators alike. 

Remember in primary school when a friend would draw a letter on your back and you’d have to guess what it was, or was that a game we exclusively played in West Sussex? Well, let it be known that some of us (naming no names) purposely got the letter wrong so that we’d get another back tickle out of it. Fast forward 20 years and that unnamed sensation would be known as, klaxon: ASMR. 

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response was a term first coined in 2010 by Healthcare IT Consultant Jennifer Allen, although a lot of people would claim Bob Ross is the godfather of ASMR – but maybe that’s just a happy accident.

It’s characterised by the tingly sensations we get throughout the scalp, neck and spine when we hear, see and feel certain triggers (that explains the aforementioned tickle tactics). Since its 00s debut, we’ve become obsessed with this whisper-quiet community. It’s gone from a relatively untapped corner of the internet to a viral phenomenon as normal as mindfulness and meditation. 

From hair brushing, mic scratching, applying skincare or even unwrapping a lint roller, gentle ASMR videos have cemented themselves as the ultimate easy-listening material with legions of fans and creators alike. 

The content itself can vary from the mundane right through to the theatrical, incorporating elements of costume and role-play. Some content creators go all out, dressing up as characters, making entire sets and writing scripts – they don’t call them ASMRtists for nothing. 

A particularly iconic video we stumbled across whilst researching for this article was an ‘Afternoon at the Herbologist’s Greenhouse’. We challenge you to watch Goodnight Moon tinkering around in her cabin in the forest tending to all her plants without slipping into a delightful disco nap. 

In the world of ASMR content, anything goes – so long as it’s quiet and weirdly satisfying – so whether your audio aura is calming cosplay or slime ASMR, there’s a genre out there that will speak to your soul. 

Despite its technical name (Allen wasn’t sold on Braingasm), the science-based research for ASMR is pretty limited. Experienced ASMRers can certainly vouch for the tingles and their mental health benefits but whilst the feelings may be real, no one knows exactly how it works and why, which only adds to the mystery and magic surrounding this new age spoken word phenomenon. 

So, what’s it like to be a professional whisperer, or an ASMRtist, as they’re known in the community? We set about finding out about this intriguing career… 

Whispering Willow

With 1.2M followers on TikTok and 207K subscribers on her YouTube channel, Whispering Willow (11/10 name) started her ASMR journey as a viewer but made the leap to ASMRtist in 2020. Now a full-time professional whisperer and content creator, she talks to us about breaking into the industry, the meditative benefits of ASMR, triggers, fetish mining, and the future of this weird and wonderful art form. 

In your own *soothing* words, what does ASMR feel like for you and when did you first become aware of the concept? Were you an ASMR viewer before you were a creator?

Everybody experiences ASMR differently, but for me it puts my brain on co-pilot. I instantly become relaxed and just focus on the sounds and actions of the video. In many instances it is described as a “tingly” feeling in the neck and spine, which I occasionally experience, but usually my entire body just becomes relaxed. I find the personal attention videos like makeup roleplays, haircut roleplays, and other personal attention scenarios the most relaxing and satisfying.

I remember being 8 years old and experiencing the sensation when I was playing doctor with my friend and I was the patient.Whispering Willow

I have experienced the personal attention ASMR sensation for my entire life, but never had a word to describe it. I remember being 8 years old and experiencing the sensation when I was playing doctor with my friend and I was the patient. In 2015, an ASMR makeup roleplay kept popping up in my YouTube recommendations and eventually I caved in and watched it out of curiosity. I was confused at first, because it was a person through a screen pretending to put makeup on me, but I did find it very relaxing. From that point on I was an avid ASMR viewer and found more creators, videos, and triggers that I loved. 

How long have you been making ASMR content and how did you start out?

With my five years of viewer experience I started making videos in October of 2020. Before I started my channel I would come up with ASMR video ideas that I would have liked my favorite creators to make, so I just decided to do them myself. I had always wanted to start a YouTube channel and ASMR seemed to be the right fit for me.

For those who are new to the world of ASMR, what does being an ASMRtist entail? Is it a lucrative career/ hobby?

Now that I am a full-time Youtuber/ASMRtist, my day is mostly focused on how to grow all of my social media accounts. A huge chunk of my time goes to video ideas, trend research, engaging with viewers, video prep, filming and editing. I try to make my background as relaxing as possible, and do research on what my audience would like to see.

ASMR can be lucrative if you do it right. Just like other types of social media content, it can be monetized and turned into a business. I am still not totally sure if I’m doing it right, but I am always learning from my mistakes and evolving. I originally started my channel as a hobby and creative outlet. When it became monetized at 1,000 subscribers I thought, “Oh cool! I have a little side hustle. This is great”. When I continued to grow, I decided that I wanted to put all my effort into my channel and turn a hobby into my job.

ASMR is a relatively new phenomenon, why do you think it’s blown up into this hugely popular content / entertainment / self-care form?

Now, this might not be true, but it is just my theory on the popularity of ASMR. I think ASMR originally blew up because, at first glance, it’s weird. If you don’t understand its purpose, ASMR can be confusing and bizarre. I remember YouTubers would react to it and it even received ridicule from Ellen Degeneres on the Ellen Show. More people began to be exposed to ASMR and its purpose, and it found its way into many people’s lives. It’s effective, useful, and attention-grabbing in its own relaxing way.

What are some of the most common ASMR requests you get?

On my channel I see a fair amount of requests for hair brushing, stress plucking and pulling, makeup roleplays, and medical roleplays.

How about strange / niche requests. Have you had many of those…

I don’t fulfil those requests because fetish mining is a huge issue right now in the ASMR community.Whispering Willow

I don’t see any strange requests on YouTube, but I do see them in my TikTok comments. For example, someone suggested I try out a trigger that involved plucking invisible bugs from the microphone. It wasn’t my cup of tea but still fun to try out. Obviously, I do ignore some requests like “kidnap ASMR” or “murder ASMR”. I have no idea why, but over the summer that was a common request in my TikTok comments and I had to ban the word. However, I love trying out new triggers and niche requests when they seem innocent enough. Also, I do occasionally get some strange and specific requests in my DMs. I don’t fulfil those requests because fetish mining is a huge issue right now in the ASMR community.

What are your favourite objects to work with, or triggers?

I go through phases but I love to work with water, glass, wood, and cork. Wood tapping sounds are divine and there are so many different ways to make relaxing sounds with them (tapping, scratching, brushing). I recently started incorporating wooden bowls into my videos and haven’t stopped!

Despite the lack of Science-based research around ASMR, what would you say are the holistic / mental health benefits of engaging with ASMR content?

To me, the main benefit of ASMR is to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. Most people use it before bed to help them relax, quiet the mind, and eventually, fall asleep. Also, from my viewers, I have learned that ASMR has helped their ADHD and ADD. Viewers have told me that listening to ASMR quiets their mind and helps them focus on the task at hand. I have not been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD, but I do have a hard time staying focused and I agree that putting on ASMR in the background of my day to day tasks has increased my focus and productivity. ASMR could have a plethora of positive impacts on a person, they just need to be open and willing to try it out.

What’s the best thing about creating ASMR content for you personally? I’d imagine it’s a great creative outlet as well as a rewarding job?

I LOVE that my content has the ability to positively impact an unlimited amount of people. And not only does it have the ability to help people, but it actually does! I get to help viewers relax and fall asleep, but I also get to dress up, create sets, plots, storylines, scripts, and basically do whatever I want with my channel. It’s very rewarding to see people enjoy your videos as much as you enjoyed making them.

How do you ensure you keep things fresh and find new ideas, it must require a lot of time and creative energy?

I go through creative phases on my channel and take breaks to keep from burning out. I have brainstorming days where I write down every idea, good and bad. I also try to keep a notebook with me at all times because sometimes a good video idea will just hit me with no warning. I try to come up with my own ideas that no one has filmed before, or put my own creative spin on it.

Can you tell us a bit about the production process? Some people go all out with costumes and role play – what skills did you already possess that have proved useful in ASMR work and what have you learned along the way?

It depends on the video for sure. Sometimes I just sit on the floor with a stack of books as my microphone stand and film a cozy roleplay video with my iPhone. Low production ASMR videos are cozy, homey, and comfortable for myself and viewers. With other videos like my Harry Potter and fairy series, I put a lot of effort into costumes, lighting, triggers, props, scripts, etc. Both types of videos do well.

My ASMR technique and whisper has improved greatly since my first ever post.Whispering Willow

In the past year I have learned more about YouTube strategies and what makes an effective ASMR video. My ASMR technique and whisper has improved greatly since my first ever post. I have also had to learn the business side of social media like taxes, investing in gear, how to deal with brands, and sponsorships. There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to YouTube and I always have to be growing and evolving to succeed.

It’s certainly not your average 9-5 office job – what do your friends and family think of your ASMR channel?

My family and friends are very supportive of my ASMR endeavors. They were a bit confused when I told them I was doing ASMR full time because I majored in biology, but they were still supportive! Some older members of my family still don’t understand what ASMR is, but they are supportive of my social media business nonetheless. It is becoming more and more common to have an unconventional online job that can support you financially as well as a typical 9-5 office job. Maybe less common for that online job to ASMR but still!

Finish the sentence: A great ASMRtist must be… 

Kind. SUCH a basic word I know. But I believe there has to be good intentions behind your videos. I create ASMR content to help others de-stress, find some peace, and fall asleep. If an ASMRtist isn’t fully compassionate or kind then their videos aren’t going to be as effective. I fully believe that putting kind and positive intentions into the work I do increases the quality of my videos.

What do you think the next big thing will be in ASMR, from triggers to themes. What does the future of ASMR look like?

Hmmm… I think fast, aggressive, and chaotic ASMR will continue to grow traction and popularity. ASMR live streams are also becoming more and more popular on all social media platforms. For whatever reason, a large number of people prefer their ASMR live instead of prerecorded.

I am excited for the future of ASMR. As time goes on there seems to be less of a stigma towards ASMR and its creators. It is becoming normalized as more people learn about it and its benefits. I hope more science based research goes into ASMR because there is so much we don’t know about it.

You can follow more of Willow’s content on her Tiktok: @whisperingwillowasmr and her YouTube: Whispering Willow ASMR 

Dreamscape

Next up, we spoke to Dream, the ASMRtist behind the TikTok account @dreamscapeasmr. From an eye exam with an elf to vampire cosplay and crystal healing, Dream has already crafted her own fantasy role play niche, despite only being in the industry since February 2021. Here she speaks to Zoella about special effects, script writing and her hopes to take ASMR to the big screen…

In your own *soothing* words, what does ASMR feel like for you and when did you first become aware of the concept? Were you a viewer before you were a creator?

I first came across ASMR on YouTube several years ago but I did not feel the effects of it or understand it at first. Now, I look back and realise that there are so many different sub-genres of ASMR and I just hadn’t discovered the right one for me. A couple of years later I randomly came across it again – but this time I found a certain genre that I thought was very comforting and relaxing. Most people who experience ASMR describe it as a tingling sensation in the back of their head or down their spine. I feel that sensation occasionally with certain triggers, however, most of the time I just find it really relaxing and soothing. After a month or two of listening to it every day, I decided that I wanted to try it out myself. 

How long have you been making ASMR content and how did you start out?

I eventually figured out that I enjoyed making fantasy role play ASMR and have been creating in that sub-genre ever since.Dream

I started making ASMR content in February of 2021. I began making videos for TikTok and YouTube in front of my bed with a Blue Yeti Microphone and my iPhone. I had no idea how to make ASMR content when I started, so I experimented with several different sub-genres. I eventually figured out that I enjoyed making fantasy role play ASMR and have been creating in that sub-genre ever since.  

For those who are new to the world of ASMR, what does being an ASMRtist entail? Is it a lucrative career/ hobby?

Being an ASMRtist is extremely fulfilling and it can be as much or as little work as you make it. It just depends on the genre of ASMR you want to create. The kind of videos I produce take 15-20 hours to film and edit since I am a fantasy role play ASMRtist. My process is very time-consuming due to the fact that I write and memorize my own scripts, design/put together a costume for each video, and film and edit all by myself. I really enjoy using CGI and special effects in my videos—which adds to the amount of time I spend crafting each video. It can be a lucrative career or hobby, but it does take a lot of dedication to be successful. 

ASMR is a relatively new phenomenon, why do you think it’s blown up into this hugely popular content/entertainment / self-care form? 

I think this genre of content has become really popular over the last 10 years because of how accessible it is. Since the majority of ASMR videos are hosted on YouTube, anyone can easily pull up a video and relax for free. ASMR content can also be extremely entertaining depending on the genre, which broadens the potential audience.

What are some of the most common ASMR requests you get? 

Since I am a role play ASMRtist, most of my requests come in the form of ideas about basic plot lines or characters. For example, “can you do a pirate role play?” 

How about strange / niche requests. Have you had many of those… 

Absolutely! Most of the time I really appreciate the more niche requests because they are more interesting to me. I would classify my videos as being very unconventional in the realm of role-play ASMR content, so when I see a bizarre idea in the comments I always make note of it. 

What are your favourite objects to work with, or triggers? 

I don’t really work with a lot of objects because of the genre of ASMR I create, however, I have several videos that involve the use of medical tools. My favourite prop to use in a medical role-play is my stethoscope.

Despite the lack of Science-based research around ASMR, what would you say are the holistic/mental health benefits of engaging with ASMR content?

ASMR can be a really useful tool to those who experience anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks. Personally, I love listening to ASMR when I am very stressed and need help calming down. One aspect of ASMR that I specifically focus on in my own videos is receiving loneliness. I like to format my videos to be like a scene from a movie— only the viewer is another main character. 

What’s the best thing about creating ASMR content for you personally? I’d imagine it’s a great creative outlet as well as a rewarding job? 

My favourite part of making ASMR is morphing myself into different characters and creating bizarre scenarios. There’s something really satisfying about seeing my ideas come to life. It’s also super rewarding to interact with my followers. I’m still in disbelief that there is a community of people that enjoy my videos and find them helpful. 

How do you ensure you keep things fresh and find new ideas, it must require a lot of time and creative energy?

It does take a lot of time and creative energy to craft my videos, but I absolutely love the creative process. I have definitely felt burnt out several times along my journey, however, I have never struggled to come up with fresh ideas. I have a list of ideas so long I could never get to all of them in my lifetime. I also try to avoid trending video concepts or find a way to put a strange twist on a trending theme.  

Can you tell us a bit about the production process? Some people go all out with costumes and role-play – what skills did you already possess that have proved useful in ASMR work and what have you learned along the way?

A lot of my videos are in the fantasy genre, which requires the use of CGI and special effects. I always try to make my scenes look as realistic as possible.Dream

I have a pretty lengthy production process. Since I am a fantasy role play ASMRtist, I begin by creating a character in my mind to go with a particular concept. Next, I either make or put together a costume. Then, I write and memorize a script. Once all that has been completed, I film in front of a green screen. It usually takes me a whole day just to film since most of my videos have several scenes. Then I spend about 15 hours (or more) editing. A lot of my videos are in the fantasy genre, which requires the use of CGI and special effects. I always try to make my scenes look as realistic as possible.  

It’s certainly not your average 9-5 office job – what do your friends and family think of your ASMR channel?

My friends and family have been incredibly supportive of me throughout my journey. Sure, some of them don’t understand it or experience ASMR themselves—but they are happy to see that I am doing what I love. 

Finish the sentence: A great ASMRtist must be…

Unique. 

What do you think the next big thing will be in ASMR, from triggers to themes. What does the future of ASMR look like?

I think ASMR content will lean towards the cinematic side of things in the future. There are some creators who are already creating entire sets for their role play videos and I see the line between ASMR content and film blending. I myself have dreamed of making ASMR movies one day!

You can see more of Dream’s ASMR content on her TikTok: @dreamscapeasmr and her YouTube: Dreamscape ASMR

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