Maria says she is going to squeeze your shoulder. She's explains she's going to let it go and then gently rub it between her hands, back and forth. She describes her movements as firm yet soft.
"I hope you feel relaxed," Maria calmly and quietly says in the video. "I hope you feel at peace. I hope you feel like you're ready to sleep."
Maria, who operates YouTube channel Gentle Whispering ASMR, is arguably the queen of the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) genre. She'll never physically touch her millions of viewers. But people seek her videos out to feel the tingling sensation that her clips give them, allowing them to unwind or go to bed.
"It's a very pleasant, natural high state that you want more and more of," Maria, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, told CNBC.
The demand for Maria's videos is so great that she's one of a handful of people who have quit their day jobs to pursue creating ASMR-inducing videos full-time. Gentle Whispering ASMR has more than 872,000 subscribers, and her top five videos alone have amassed more than 47 million views. While she won't disclose how much she's making, she noted it's enough for her to have a "comfortable living," but she's more attracted to the fact she's giving people a way to de-stress than the money.
"It takes time, but there's definitely money to be made if you want to make money," said Paul of YouTube ASMR channel Ephemeral Rift, who also asked his last name be withheld.
"But I'm not looking to make money," Paul, who creates the videos as his primary source of income, added. "I'm looking to create art. Money is kind of second."
'It's almost like goose bumps'
The term ASMR was coined in 2010, but the audio and visual-induced sensation has always existed. If you've ever experienced that cringe-worthy, face-scrunching feeling you get when you hear nails on a chalkboard, ASMR is the exact opposite. It's the chills you get when you hear a beautiful voice singing. It's the prickly sensation when you hear or see something soothing, without having to physically touch it.
"It's almost like goose bumps, but goose bumps are that that shivery, uncomfortable feeling," said Paul. "It's more like a pleasant electrical sensation, a tingling sensation like pins and needles."
Paul has experienced ASMR his whole life. He could get the feeling by being on the phone with a bill collector with a soothing voice, or getting his hair cut. He believes what triggers the sensation is the semblance of personal attention, which can be mimicked online through close-up face framing shots.
Similarly, Gentle Whispering's Maria felt her first rush of ASMR when getting undivided attention from a friend. She was roleplaying being a student, while her friend was the teacher.
"She was flipping the pages, and licking her finger so particularly," she recalled. "She was so into the character, and all of the attention was on me. The delivery of information created this weird pleasant tingling all over my body. It was such a pleasant situation that I kept asking her questions to so she would keep going in the same way."
ASMR has also been called a "brain orgasm" because of gratification it can give viewers, but for the majority of people, there's no sexual connection. A study in PeerJ published in March 2015 found that 98 per cent of the 475 study participants used it for relaxation, with 82 per cent using it to help them sleep and 70 per cent for stress relief. Only 5 per cent used it for sexual stimulation, with the vast majority saying it brought no sexual pleasure.
Baba the Cosmic Barber and psychiatrists with lampshades
"ASMR is not as odd as it sounds," said Burnie Burns, co-founder and chief creative officer of production company Rooster Teeth. "In the 90s we had CDs and audio tapes of rain forest sounds that many people used for relaxation purposes -- there just wasn't a fancy term to classify that media. Since online video has become a phenomenon, now we have a whole new generation of those kinds of ephemeral experiences created by people all over the world."
Last year, Rooster Teeth released the documentary "The World's Greatest Head Massage: An ASMR Journey," where filmmakers travelled to Pushkar, India to find Baba the Cosmic Barber. Unbeknownst to Baba, he had become a YouTube sensation after people had been uploading videos of his "cosmic energy" shaves and head massage techniques. Baba has since created his own YouTube channel, ASMR Barber, to take advantage of his popularity.
"ASMR videos tend to have low production costs, but have a massive replay-ability factor," Burns explained. "'Baba the Cosmic Barber's original head massage video has almost 10,000,000 views. Many of those views come from people who probably watch it several times a week to fall asleep. Ten million views is incredible for a video that costs less than fifty dollars to make."
But creating an ASMR video isn't as simple as filming for an hour. Maria said her more complex videos take about three days to create. She'll write up a script with specific soothing words she should be using and do research into what sounds she should incorporate. She tests out the appropriate lighting and sound levels before filming. She sets up microphones positioned where a viewer's ears would be in real life, and places the lens where a onlooker's eyes would be. Then, after filming the video, she goes into post-production, which includes a special ear toward sound to remove any clap or loud noise.
"It creates this presence of a person with you or around you concentrating on you," Maria. "It creates privacy. Most of the time people will watch it by themselves and truly lose themselves in the moment."
While the Ephemeral Rift YouTube channel features conventional relaxing videos like trees rusting in the wind or someone shuffling wooden blocks, Paul also experiments by playing characters like Dr. Lampert Schade, a psychiatrist with a lampshade on his head, and Corvus Clemmons, a plague doctor who wears a bird-like steampunk mask. All the videos feature soft soothing sounds and no sudden movements.
"I looked to YouTube as a creative outlet," Paul said. "I was searching for something in my life that was fulfilling."
YouTube pays on average US$2 (S$2.80) per 1,000 views if you run ads on your videos, but there are many other factors involved in payment. For example, not all clips have commercials on them and different genres on YouTube have different payouts, depending on popularity. Maria says she doesn't think she could sustain a family with her ASMR videos, while Paul, who does have a wife and child, points out that a YouTube career doesn't cover additional costs like health benefits.
"Because it is a job, I do need to have some sort of income from it, or else I wouldn't be able to do it," Maria said. "But, it's definitely not the motive behind the videos. [Getting paid is] more of a pleasant surprise I have gotten along the way."