When you search for ASMR channels on YouTube, you will come across a diverse community of creators. These ASMRtists (ASMR + artists) make a living relaxing their audiences and giving them what’s known to the ASMR community as “the tingles” — a tingling sensation caused by gentle stimulus). Paul McNelis, the creator of Ephemeral Rift, is one of YouTube’s most popular ASMRtists. He rakes in, on average, 5 million views per month. However, for Paul, his success doesn’t come from analytics or numbers. Instead, he gauges his success based on his creativity and his love for the craft.
Video views: 488,912,315
Content type: Entertainment
User created: Sep 14th, 2011
We had the opportunity to speak with Paul about his creative process, how he comes up with new ideas for Ephemeral Rift and what sets his channel apart from other ASMRists. We also discuss his philosophy on YouTube’s algorithm and why he chooses not to engage with YouTube’s numbers game.
Creating Ephemeral Rift
While desk jobs can be great for some, they can often leave creative itches unscratched. Before Paul started Ephemeral Rift, he found himself in one of those desk jobs. It left him little room to grow. “I had a desire to do something creative throughout my life, I just never knew what, you know?” he tells us. There were no opportunities for him to explore this creative side. Eventually, he decided that he needed to find balance, so he began exploring his options. He tried several creative outlets over the years, all seemingly promising at the time, but ultimately came up short. “I tried to teach myself how to play guitar … but music was never my thing. And drawing … but that was never my thing.”
Paul kept exploring. He decided to give YouTube a try: “I just opened a channel in 2011.” Eventually, he found his niche.
At the time, the concept of making YouTube a full-time career was unheard of. Paul didn’t see YouTube as a career path for him either. He didn’t make a business plan, post a schedule or design a brand. He simply wanted to create videos as a way to express himself creatively.
“I thought it was just a dumping ground for all kinds of crazy videos and random stuff,” Paul says. He found he enjoyed posting videos to YouTube and stuck with it. It became a great creative outlet for Paul, and he continued to post videos for six months until he came across ASMR.
Finding his niche in ASMR
Paul hadn’t heard of ASMR until he was approached by a viewer. “I had created a certain video,” he recalls, “Someone saw it that was familiar with ASMR. They asked about my video, asked if they could use it for a particular project and they mentioned ASMR.” Curious about what ASMR is, Paul researched the term. He realized he’d been experiencing the ASMR “tingles” his whole life. He just didn’t know there was a name for the sensation. The concept of ASMR was new and, even today, it’s still a scientific mystery. Paul was intrigued by the potential for creative experimentation.
“I found out that there was a small number of people doing ASMR videos back in 2012,” Paul says. With so little content on ASMR available, Paul found a niche that interested him and was virtually unexplored on YouTube. The landscape for this type of content was wide open. Paul was inspired to start making ASMR videos, “I was like: Okay, I’ll give it a try.” This decision led Ephemeral Rift to what it is today.
Paul still didn’t know much about video production at that point, but that didn’t stop him from jumping head-first into creating ASMR videos. After some practice, he found a formula that worked for him and his audience. “It all just kind of happened at once. I just fell into it and it became routine and it’s something I guess I’m good at,” he says.
Scratching the creative itch
While Paul intended for the channel to be his place for random musings and creative ideas, it became one of the biggest ASMR channels on the platform. Though Paul now primarily posts ASMR-related content, he still injects his creativity into every video he posts.
Since there’s an unlimited number of ASMR triggers, Paul has a ton of space for experimentation. He’s dabbled with more traditional ASMR triggers to help people sleep, to more weird ASMR roleplay like playing an ashes dealer in Marvel’s The Infinity Wars saga. Many of Paul’s viewers get drawn to his channel for ASMR triggers and relaxation, but they’ll find a lot more when they explore his catalog.
When describing his catalog, “I just do my thing; I get creative with being different characters in a ‘universe’ that I’ve built,” Paul says, referencing his fictional post-apocalyptic Ephemeral Rift Universe (ERU). For character episodes, the ASMR content is presented within the storylines of the ERU. He employs an inventive alternate use of the ASMR acronym: Arkham Sanitarium Method of Relaxation. The suggestion is that the audience should imagine themselves as a patient in the dark and twisty sanitarium to be fully immersed in the experimental sounds and images evoked in each video. Since the ASMR experience is often similar to meditation, this kind of immersion is effective.
While Paul has developed the ERU, he doesn’t limit his creativity to doing videos only related to that fictional universe. His content, as Paul describes it, is a mishmash. In some videos, he’s testing pickle chips or guessing random things about his viewers; in others, he’s simply cooking a meal for his audience.
How Paul runs his business
Many YouTubers fixate on following what topics are hot to maximize their viewership. That really isn’t Paul’s thing, he tells us. “I don’t really see what’s trending; I don’t follow that stuff at all.” Instead, he prefers to leave YouTube’s analytic tools on the back burner and focus on making content that he wants to make. While that might not work for every aspiring YouTuber, Ephemeral Rift is proof that success doesn’t have to be rooted in stats, analytics and business savvy. Sometimes, with the right amount of creativity and passion, you can find success organically.
His advice to creators is that staying consistent and being creative are the keys to building a loyal audience. “What helps is that I’ve been doing it for so long. People are kind of familiar with the channel and what I do in ASMR. I try to put at least one video out a week and be consistent.
Paul puts his craft at the forefront of what he does, and that’s been the enduring part of his channel and one of the main reasons for his success. “I don’t really promote myself,” he says, “I have a small Twitter and Instagram presence but I don’t use it for promotion… I just do my thing and upload it, and I hope people will watch.”
Not only are people watching, but they’re also incredibly engaged. With Paul’s hands-off approach to YouTube, he’s accumulated over 1.09 million subscribers. Many videos have over 2 million views each. The comment sections are frequently pulling in more than 10,000 comments. For many creators, old content doesn’t get much attention, but even some of his oldest videos still have consistent new engagement.
Making a living on YouTube
Similar to his hands-off philosophy on YouTube’s algorithm and analytics, Paul isn’t trying to drive a money machine channel. However, he has experimented with several avenues and platforms for financial support.
In past years, he’s run a series of podcasts, used Patreon and uploaded content to Spotify, among other things. However, YouTube worked well for him. Ephemeral Rift’s success allowed him to walk away from his desk job a few years back, and he’s grateful for that.
Paul does sell merch as well, and just like his content, he gets creative with designs. You won’t find the Ephemeral Rift logo on many wearables. Instead, you’ll find unique clothing pieces with designs that resonate directly with his audience. A bright green hoodie with a close-up of Barry (a Halloween dummy prop) and the phrase “Master Obliger” is definitely a “if you know, you know” piece of merch that’s a great item for any Ephemeral Rift regular. Paul uses TeeSpring to create his merch, allowing him to get pretty creative with his design and put them on a ton of different things, like tees, bandanas and plushies.
Creating for yourself first
On a platform that’s run by an algorithm dictated by numbers, it’s easy for creators to feel the need to tailor their content to what’s popular. Oftentimes, it’s necessary for growth. ASMR has always been on the fringes of YouTube’s algorithm. Since it’s a phenomenon that’s only been put into words in recent years, the science community is still researching and gathering facts. Some skeptics think ASMR is complete nonsense.
“If you’re a creative person, it can be demoralizing at times,” Paul admits. Nevertheless, Paul pushes forward and continues to make the type of content he wants to make on his channel. As he notes on his About page, “YouTube & ASMR are the primary vehicles I use to deliver my creativity, often infusing and blending various genres such as comedy, philosophy, surrealism, the absurd, horror, etc., to create my own style of art & relaxation.” He doesn’t hesitate to do what he wants to do on his channel, and that’s refreshing.