Lily D is an ASMR YouTuber. What does that mean? Listen to the podcast to find out.
ASMR helps with anxiety and insomnia. Lily started making ASMR videos in 2013 and has racked up over 65 million views of her videos.
In this conversation, Aaron and Lily discuss how she got started, the positive & negative messages she receives, and what the future holds for a brand built around an individual.
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Lily’s Challenge; Try deleting Instagram (or your most used social network) for a week.
Connect with Lily Whispers
Mettle by Lilliana Dee
If you liked this interview, check out episode 386 with Jon Shanahan where we discuss men’s fashion, learning from working in a corporate environment, and how he’s built a YouTube following.
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Watson: Thank you so much for doing this. I'm excited to be speaking with you.
Lily Whispers: Thank you for having me.
Watson: I want to start with a very specific question that I get a lot. I see a lot of people struggle with, and taking your life back to 19, you first heard, I believe, was Lana Del Rey do an ASMR video.
Lily Whispers: It was actually Appreciate ASMR doing a Lana Del Ray makeup tutorial.
Watson: At that point, that was a catalyst for you to go start creating your own videos in this very distinct space, but even just to take that and actually take it in the action of making the thing, and then to take the thing that you made and publish it. So many people see that as a significantly daunting, uphill battle. What was that process for you before the first time you press publish?
Lily Whispers: That's so funny that you asked that because I remember realizing that if I thought about it too much, I wasn't going to do it. I'm pretty much a perfectionist with most things that I do. I was like, you know what, if I don't jump in, how do you swim? You jump in the deep end. You figure out how to doggy paddle, and God forbid, you know, you just figure out how to swim.
I just remember I was to go to work, and I propped my iPhone up on, God, I don't even know where it was propped up on, probably like a cup or or something. I filmed, and my first video is 15 minutes long, and it was so rushed. I was so nervous, and I remember I published it and I was just like, ‘Yolo. Let's see what happens.’ To be honest, I don't know what mentality I was in, but I just realized that if I didn't just do it, I wasn't going to do it.
I kind of thought about my channel name, which was officially or before it was Lily Whispers. ASMR, it was Whispers Lily because Lily Whispers was taken. It was Whispers Lily, and I didn't even have any graphics on my channel. I think I just uploaded it, and I was like ‘let's see what happens.’ It did kind of well, and everyone was really supportive and receptive of it. I think the feedback is what kept me going, but it was just kind of like a last minute, ‘okay, I have 15 minutes before I have to leave my house for work, I might as well just do this.’
Watson: Yeah. It's so interesting that you said that there was some of that feedback because the other element is someone creates, someone publishes, and then there's going to be negative feedback. There's gonna be negative critique. Then there's also this untalked about section of like, there was just no feedback. I put it out there. Nothing happened, no one said anything, and there wasn't a reaction, but for you, it seems like there was a response or feedback pretty quickly after putting out there for the first.
Lily Whispers: Yeah. This was, God, so long ago. This was when ASMR content was just beginning. So everyone was just absorbing as much as they can. Now, everyone, you know, not everyone, but a lot of people have ASMR channels now. Everyone's thinking about making one and everything. So back when there wasn't a lot of content out there, people were constantly searching for it and finding it. So from an SEO perspective and a video SEO perspective, I kind of was in people's feeds. Because it's such a niche audience, I feel like that first video, I think I got 3000 views on it in the very first couple of months, or whatever it was.
I was thrilled. I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is like the best video I've ever done. This is amazing.’ I had dabbled in YouTube before, so I kind of had an understanding of the platform, but yeah, getting no feedback, which I've had projects where I've gotten no feedback on you're like, ‘oh my God, I'm presenting to a wall.’ It's kind of daunting in that way. I lucked out with getting immediate feedback and immediate good feedback. People were very constructive.
Watson: Maybe before the first day of ASMR came out, maybe that's kind of what was happening to some degree with the stuff that you had put out before was like, if it elicited such a response the first time you did that, it kind of speaks to from a comparison standpoint where the stuff was before that, is that accurate?
Lily Whispers: Yes, exactly.
Watson: So take me through comparing and contrasting then and now. For me, what was absolutely eye opening was to see the Michelo Ultra commercial, where it was completely out of left field. Some people try to ruin the ads beforehand and see what's coming. I had no idea. I was like, did they just do an ASMR ad during the Superbowl?
Lily Whispers: So funny, my friend from Florida called me two weeks ago, and he was like, ‘Lily, did you see the Michelo Ultra commercial?’ I'm like, ‘listen, buddy, you're a little late. I've definitely seen that.’ He was like, ‘man, that’s so awesome.’ I was like, ‘yeah.’
Watson: So, the first time you did it, you made it on the phone, but now the gear and just the standard competition has raised. When more people come into the space, it's no longer, you know, maybe, you could get away with it, but the standard for the equipment that you have to use is much, much higher.
Lily Whispers: Much higher. When I started, there were no binaural microphones. People were using their iPhone, and people still do that. There is a type of ASMR that has a lot of white noise and we call that Lo-Fi, low frequency, like Lo-Fi music and radio stations. ASMR has a similar thing.
I personally love those videos, but then you see these people actually making their own microphones. This guy made this microphone with actually four ears on it. To build that, you think of where technology has grown of, okay, you’re lucky if you had a microphone on either side of the camera to kind of give a binaural effect, but now you have microphones that are mimicking the human ear in four places. That's crazy.
Watson: Can you define binaural?
Lily Whispers: Yeah. Binaural means on either side. So, when you're listening to music on your headphones, you hear it on the right or the left side.
Watson: How have you thought about that for yourself? Now, I'm getting back to just all these kinds of themes of content creation, regardless of vertical, of someone who just pursues having to have the best. I don't quite have the right camera set up, things, or the other thing before I go and make the thing when, you know, that's a part of the equation. That's not really the core of anything that you would ever create.
Lily Whispers: No, it's not. You have to think about what you're going to bring to the table that's going to set you apart from everybody else, whether it's what you talk about, whether it's your personality, whatever it is, it can't just be about technology. Anyone can come out and buy the newest, greatest things. Unless you, I kind of have a taste for it, unless you bring something new to the table, it's just going to be like everything else. So, the technology can only get you so far. That's half of it.
Watson: Yeah. So, what I'm really curious about as it pertains to the growth, there was an appetite for ASMR. You even alluded to the SEO strength when you were first getting off, and how that video got discovered, but you have a real comprehensive digital marketing skill set. I think the other mistake that an outside observer can make is to say, ‘well, right moment, right time,’ or ‘she's done it consistently and therefore worked,’ but there had to be some strategy behind the growth of what was going on.
It's informed by a career that you have now in the digital marketing space. Can you speak a little bit to the elements outside the actual execution of the video that went into the growth of your channel?
Lily Whispers: Right. If you think of YouTube as being the second largest search engine in the world, you think about how many searches Google gets, think of YouTube as being just a little shy of that. People are always looking to YouTube for everything. The YouTube analytics platform has grown a lot since I've been on YouTube, but that's really insightful.
When I first started my channel, I also had an internship, the following summer in analytics and search engine marketing. That's where I kind of got my feet on the ground. It's funny because my ASMR channel took off that following summer, and I kind of applied those things. I look to see what people were searching for, what related channels we're doing, getting inspiration there, and analytics. It's so fascinating what the numbers can tell you.
Of course there's those trendy, faddy type videos of right now, in the ASMR community, everyone's eating edible objects. I know that sounds really weird, but bear with me. So I guess on ETSY, people will sell fondant, the cake stuff, and they'll make makeup out of it. Then, you know, and ASMR would be like, ‘I ate a makeup palette’ and things like that. That's a really trendy right now. If you think about how to grow in that sense of what the wave of what is within the niche or whatever it is. Another thing to say is mukbangs, which are the eating videos as well. Those are very, very popular.
Watson: I literally only just found out about, I didn't even know that that was the correct pronunciation of it, because I only had read the title of it. I only found out about that like a week ago.
Lily Whispers: Wow. You're really late. That's not even an ASMR thing, Aaron.
Watson: I'm sorry. That hurts.
Lily Whispers: It's like everywhere. I mean, maybe it's not everywhere, but, it's very, very big in ASMR now, as well. People love a good crunch.
Watson: That is part of it though, that there's a never ending, a never ceasing, new thing to be discovered. Regardless of anyone who you may perceive to be on the cutting edge, there's just always, maybe I'm just sounding like an old fart here, not knowing where my phone is, but that is the perpetual role of both the digital marketer and the creator, it’s to continue to uncover those things.
Lily Whispers: Right. If you could think about that as being, ‘the sky's the limit,’ that is not only daunting, but it's also exciting, too. You're like, ‘what can I bring to the table that's different?’
I recently saw somebody doing a drunk ASMR, and luckily I'm 25, so I did a drunk ASMR, and I think out of all of my videos I've ever posted in the past three years, that one has done the best in the first 48 hours I've never posted.
Watson: As you've connected with other YouTubers of a similar size, whether, you know, necessarily even for a collaboration, but just, that's kind of how the world works. People in similar circles run together. Do you see a similar theme or trend of a successful YouTuber with some sort of a background in another digital marketing role, and that is contributing to the success that we're having? That's what I'm, in a limited scope, seeing from previous interviews, we've done with Brad and with John Shanahan, I'm curious if you've seen something similar.
Lily Whispers: GB ASMR is one of the largest ASMR artists in the field. I'm saying field like, it's a digital marketing field, but like on YouTube for ASMR. She has a degree in video creation and production, things like that. She's totally all over like this, and her videos are so wonderfully executed. It's a science, it's a talent, and she's so talented. She has the backing to back it up.
Watson: So, as we step back from YouTube for a moment, and look at the career of Lily, and at this unparalleled age of you being able to build a brand around yourself, you being able to be a media company own your own, and having effectively done that, not spoken to it, but effectively done that. It's a really interesting place to sit in terms of, I alluded to the different types of content out there, but even just the directions that you could go.
You recently chose to go the direction of publishing a book, but when you have an attention and an audience and a creative bent, it seems like there's a lot of directions that you can go. How have you thought about the subsequent steps of building out the things that you're doing, and are you always prioritizing growth and expansion? Are you pursuing creative expression? Are you pursuing business like top line revenue for the brand? How do you think about balancing those things?
Lily Whispers: That's a really good question. I've been writing since I was a kid, and I always wanted to write a book. It didn't really have to do anything with ASMR. I touched upon that in my book, but it was just kind of those iCloud notes, those notes within my phone, that I just had to get out there. I decided to share it with the world because my audience, just to give you context, it's 80% or 85% female this month. It's usually about 79% female. So, I have a very large female audience, and they're always asking me for advice and things like that. I felt that by honing into my own life's experience, what better way to do that than through a book.
I try to do that with my videos as well, but sometimes people are looking to escape their problems through ASMR videos because of the sounds of whispers and things like that. So of course, I didn't want to talk about, you know, too many deep things on YouTube. So, the book was kind of that medium for it, but I also have to think of my brand.
There's a lot of people that are pushing merch. If you think of clothing as being the second, most popular form of waste, after plastic, that really makes me depressed. I've always come from a very eco-friendly family. We were always very cognizant of recycling and turning off the lights and things like that. The little things that we could do to make up the big picture. I knew that I never wanted to come out with my own clothing line. I didn't want to contribute to consumerism in that way.
If there was some way that I could take my words and my wisdom and put it on paper in another way, that's what I did as far as the fueling. I guess the catalyst of what/ how I would like to grow, it really depends on my own self growth. If I would have started YouTube with money in mind, I don't think I would be where I am today. Obviously we're all paying bills and things like that, but I genuinely enjoy making ASMR videos. I never expected to make any money from it. I never expected to land the brand deals that I did. Any time it starts to feel like work, because it's my hobby, I stopped doing it.
I've been working on my book for two years, and if it started feeling like work, I stopped doing it. I know that a lot of people are different, and we live in a capitalist society. Making money from the things that I put out there is really gratifying, but what means more to me is the fact that people are like, ‘wow, I can relate to this. This is amazing.’ That's more fulfilling to me than money in my pocket.
Watson: So in a similar way, despite what has been built, if ASMR, for whatever reason, you wake up tomorrow, it stops being fulfilling or satisfying or interesting to you. Would you have the capacity to let that go and go in a different direction?
Lily Whispers: I would never let it go because of the connections and the relationship that I have with my subscribers. It is so fulfilling beyond any dollar amount. I can't quite describe that because I would just continue to have that relationship with them. If I stopped making money, I would continue doing it, because I have that relationship with my subscribers, and it's a hobby of mine. I genuinely enjoy doing it.
Watson: Talk about what that's like. The other side of being a media entity and having these means of distribution that no one ever had before is also that your inbox or DMs or other avenues are open, and a lot is coming into you, probably incomparable for almost anyone else listening to this out there.Talk a little bit through what comes into your inbox, both positive and negative, as you want to.
Lily Whispers: Oh my gosh. I get everything from fast fashion brands begging me to send me clothes and post pictures, to really creepy DMs, to like stalkers, to media companies. I've been reached out to by major companies, and I've been featured in the Washington Post, Vogue Australia, a New Yorker, Vice UK. Those are some really big media companies. I think that was brought to me through my presence online.
I guess, being a public figure, which I hate calling myself that, but on the internet, I have over 260,000 subscribers. I feel like it's a big amount of people.
Watson: That's like half of the humans that are in this entire metropolitan area. That is a lot of people.
Lily Whispers: I hate thinking about that. I'm like, ‘crap, that's so much.’ I remember my goal for subscribers was always getting as much to fill Beaver stadium of Penn state. I was like F all you guys because I got bullied the heck out of at school when I was up there. I withdrew from university because I was bullied on my ASMR videos.
Watson: That's not cool. Let's go in the positive direction. Let's talk about some of the young people, young women, that you have the opportunity to then be an outlet, to be a voice to. Maybe they're going through something similar, or maybe they just need a different perspective, and you happen to be the person that they reach out to. I'm sure that's also happening. That's the more positive side.
Lily Whispers: Yeah. I get so many kind messages and emails and DMS. It makes me so happy cause I make videos based on what I'm experiencing. There wasn't a heartbreak, ASMR video, and people always look for ASMR for anxiety and depression.
I'm like, ‘what's another experience that we have as humans that we're always looking to talk about or have someone to relate to.’ It's heartbreak. I personally didn't have an eating disorder, but a lot of girls that watch my content are struggling with body image issues. ‘Can you talk about this on your channel?’
I've done that. I've gotten really great, positive feedback from, ‘oh my gosh, I had my heart broken. Thank you so much for those kind words. They were really uplifting. I feel like I have a friend.’ These are people that are turning to ASMR because they don't have those people in their real life to open up to on the phone or friends like that.
Likewise with the body image things, that's a huge issue that I found that in college as well, a lot of my girlfriends struggled with body image issues, and it wasn't a talked about subject on YouTube in the ASMR sphere. I was like, ‘okay, let's talk about some body positivity, things like that.’
Watson: What processes or habits or practices do you have in place to control for some of that? When you can effectively open your DM or whatever the platform is, and all these messages are coming in, you have no idea what the next one would be. There's like a little teaser thing, but there are creepy people out there. There are incredibly kind, heartwarming people out there, and it's a lottery to some degree, like what it's going to be today when you open up app 1,2, or 3.
Lily Whispers: Yeah. I could get a dick pic or a fan art. You just never know. Yeah. I've gotten both.
Watson: I’m sure. What do you do to get away from it or to reset or to take time from yourself? I know how to do that physically. I know that if I go in the room on the other side of the building and lock the door, I am away. But, you know, we are dealing with apps that have been engineered to keep up on the dopamine drip.
Lily Whispers: Yes. I actually just, Michelle Montana was, and I was on their podcast, The Influence, a couple of weeks ago with Alyssa. We were talking about how to break up with your phone. They literally build technology to make us addicted. It's crazy to think about. Unwinding, I'm still working on that. It feels so great to just be able to put down my phone and be in the moment with my friends. I think last summer when I was kind of in a funk and kind of across, I was spending more and more time online trying to seek these connections that I wasn't getting in my relationship or with my friends and things like that.
There's nothing like human connection. There's nothing like self-reflection. I personally like to drive. I just like to get on the highway, go shopping and I'll go up 279, and I'll just get in my car and blast music and think, and that's my way of unwinding. I'll take the long way home.
Watson: Yeah, for me, sometimes, the email inbox can be more of a trigger than anyone. I'm very lucky to just have a lot of positivity coming to me across the platforms that I'm on. But you know, opening up in my inbox, like after 9:00 PM, I'm trying to just absolutely stop, unequivocally.
Lily Whispers: Yeah. That's difficult to do, have you tried doing the do not disturb?
Watson: I did, but then I got annoyed. I was fighting myself.
Lily Whispers: Because when you’d open your phone after nine, you'd see all the notifications anyway. That's how I struggle with that. I definitely have gotten very good at figuring out if a message is going to be bad or good. It's nice because I can click on it and see it. I don't accept all of them now, I just screenshot and put them on my story because I didn't know that starting out. I was accepting these DMS and saying, ‘oh, thank you for the support.’
Now, not to say that I don't like that, but there are some subscribers that I'm like, ‘okay, they're trying to get to know me a little bit.’ I have to keep that level of separation with my personal and my public life, because if not, who the hell am I?
Watson: Yeah, there's a weird thing that happens because you've shared some of your story and it's like, ‘wow, this person just is lacking some degree of EQ or social awareness.’ I mean, there's plenty of people that don't necessarily get it in the real world either, but at least, you know, I can communicate non-verbally, I can communicate tonally, and I can communicate with my words that this needs to change socially. That gets missed when I'm seeing basically an icon, an image of you, and I can then just type out whatever I want and hit send. It's a completely divorced experience relative to what we are actually biologically primed for.
Lily Whispers: Yeah. I made that error when I was first starting out. I thought it was so great that I had all these subscribers. I was kind of letting them into every aspect of my life, like on my Snapchat, they were sending me all these messages, and I was just available 24/7. I didn't have any time to just be Lily. That was like crazy.
I remember I deleted Snapchat and made a private one. I go through phases every spring where I'm like, ‘I don't want in the public eye. I just want to be.’ Sometimes, when you're just online all the time, and you have all these eyes on you, you just kind of want the opposite of what you have.
Watson: So, do you act on that? How does that actually manifest?
Lily Whispers: It manifests into a lot of frustration, usually, and I'll go back and forth. What I usually do is do things like a social media cleanse. I delete all the apps and I'll go dark for a week or a week and a half, and then I'll go back on. I know that sounds so pathetic. Like, ‘oh my God, only a week,’ and things like that.
Watson: Most people aren't even doing that, even if they don't have the following like that.
Lily Whispers: I knew that I was getting to be a problem because I was getting onto these apps, and I was getting anxiety about not responding to these messages about not being available to these people.
At the end of day, I don't really owe anyone anything. It's this weird thing about being an internet personality. It's like, you have to be present because that's kind of how you build your following, but then, what do you do to step back. I take a drive, but I need to find other avenues to have time to myself because you can only drive so many places in Pittsburgh.
Watson: Yeah. The reason I'm really appreciative of you speaking about it, and I want to continue to have conversations in spaces, it is just fundamentally different than anything that happened before.
I'm just thinking of the first old suburbia, but Frank Sinatra or some older celebrity, for as massive and the awareness that they had was insane. The means of distribution that their brand had to the world and to the country and the continent, they had an immense amount of privacy because of just a different era of information technology. To be simultaneously sitting at a point where you are tremendously empowered, but also dealing with challenges and problems that you hear someone like, ‘oh, well the stoic philosopher, like from the Roman empire. They had problems.’ Of course everyone had problems, but these are interesting and nuanced in ways that we haven't really ever seen before.
Lily Whispers: Our generation is so connected, it's sick. It is really crazy. Then, you look at the generation that's younger than us, and they're getting cell phones when they're 6, and you're like, ‘oh my God.’ We're just, we're in a different era, and I get it. Everyone has their own problems and things like that. I sound like so far. There are bigger things happening in the world than being on social media, of course. I always feel bad when I need to talk about my first world problems and privacy, but we are so available and so accessible and can get anything. It's creepy.
Watson: Yeah. I think it's tremendously important that we try to understand ourselves and understand what is actually happening, because there is no playbook for anything like this before. There are other characters that you can study, who are modern contemporaries, but studying a personality of the past in certain ways might be helpful, but they're not actually operating on a model like you did.
Let's take Johnny Carson, for example. Johnny Carson was the voice of a generation, but Johnny Carson didn't really sell anything. He showed up on the TV, he got paid for the TV, and I know he had other business endeavors, but it was a very linear arrangement. He just had to knock it out of the park. In this case, the same way that you chose to go and bring to the market your book. You've made this conscious choice not to go in the direction of clothing. When you have an audience that's bought into what you're doing, when you have a voice and a perspective that people do value and they want to hear from, that is a tremendous amount of power to go in countless directions.
There are influencers outside of merch who are launching an alcohol brand or launching a jewelry collection or launching makeup and perfume. Rihanna, a perfect example with Fenty. There are so many options and avenues to go down, it's tremendously interesting to me. It's tremendously fascinating.
Lily Whispers: Yeah. I've been contemplating going down the makeup route, but it would have to be on brand with me. It would have to be cruelty free, vegan, recyclable, like all those things. Then, that gets expensive.
Watson: Yeah. But it's also the way that you are, and it's deeply authentic, in the same way that it's apparent through the answers related to fashion and makeup. You have your own set of non-negotiables, and whether it's explicit or implicit, that's coming through in the stuff that you're putting out there. Someone's gonna be like, ‘well, Aaron, she did like a drunk ASMR, that has nothing to do with cruelty free makeup.’ But, the way that you are and the consistent values that you carry with you are manifesting themselves, regardless of whether you're consciously putting that out into the world.
Lily Whispers: Oh yeah. In my drunk ASMR, I also talked about makeup. I'm always just me.
Watson: Yeah, an exciting future. I'm excited to continue to follow along and see what other other moves you make. Is there anything you would like to share today before we do our standard sign off?
Lily Whispers: No, I don't think so. I mean, if you're interested in ASMR, you should definitely check out my channel. It's called a Lily Whispers ASMR, L-I-L-Y Whispers, and then ASMR. It stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, if anyone's curious.
Watson: Right on, hopefully I remember to do that in the intro so that people aren't like halfway through, ‘what are they talking about?’ We're going to link Lily’s Instagram, Twitter, all her other good links in the show notes. For this episode, you can find it on goingdeepwithaaron.com/podcast for this and every episode of the show. But as we do, Lily, at the end of each interview, I want to give you the mic one more time to issue an actionable personal challenge for the audience.
Lily Whispers: Yeah. Try deleting Instagram for a week and see how you do. I found it incredibly insightful. Then, after I went dark for a week, I didn't post as much. Now, I just post memes on my story. I don't know why. It was very cleansing. Even if you can't do a week because it's your business or something like that, try three to five days. Just the weekend.
Watson: The world will keep spinning.
Lily Whispers: Yeah, exactly. That's the scariest part, but also the most rewarding.
Watson: Well, this has been great. We just Went Deep with Lily Whispers. I hope everyone out there has a fantastic day.