YouTube star Dong Li shares how he grew his audience through gentle whispers and stimulating sounds.
Have you ever felt tingles in the back of your head or spine when listening to someone whisper into your ear?
If your answer is yes, you might have experienced Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) – a pleasurable tingling sensation triggered when exposed to a specific visual or sound.
From mukbang to ear cleaning and hair cutting stimulus, a simple search on YouTube will reveal the wide variety of ASMR content available on the internet.
Amongst the multitude of ASMR enthusiasts is 22-year-old Dong Li, who has successfully amassed a large following on YouTube. With 46 million views and over 326,000 subscribers, he is currently the most subscribed ASMR YouTuber based in Singapore.
A few weeks ago, Youthopia spoke with Dong Li, the creative genius behind the YouTube channel Dong ASMR.
When we first met, the full-time national serviceman seemed exhausted, having just booked out from camp the night before. Despite being worn out, he walked us through every step of his creative process to create ASMR videos.
As a black backdrop surrounded his kitchen setup and lighting equipment rested on the side of his dining table, Dong Li curled up in a chair to discuss all things ASMR and more.
Like many others who are new to the ASMR community, Dong Li initially had a stereotypical misconception of ASMR being just a “weird sound” and didn’t know how its videos are designed to help people relax.
It wasn’t until June 2019 when he was having trouble sleeping that his interest in ASMR was piqued.
“I listened to one of the creators out there and I instantly fell asleep. I legit don’t know what kind of euphoria I felt. Since then, I think I fell in love with ASMR and listen to it every single day,” said the Nanyang Polytechnic graduate.
Prior to starting his ASMR channel, Dong Li was already making videos on his other self-titled account, DONG – a creative outlet where he spoke about his health and insecurities with acne.
“What inspired me to start the channel was finding it hard to fall asleep during my internship. The two months of listening to ASMR made me feel like doing all sorts of crazy things like tapping around my room,” he said.
Upon discovering a video by popular YouTuber ASMR Glow, he became entranced with the phenomenon and felt inspired to start his channel in August 2019.
With only $300 to spare from his savings, he went ahead and bought a microphone to create his Dong ASMR YouTube channel.
While other ASMR creators strive to produce regular ASMR content such as mukbang and medical role plays, Dong Li creates original and unique content with his creative and out-of-the-ordinary ideas.
The content ideas for his channel fall into two categories – “idea” and “normal”. “Normal” videos are a compilation of ASMR triggers that Dong Li performs in front of the camera while “idea” videos refer to skits.
“I once did an ASMR in public wearing an alien costume. We tried to make it as funny as possible so we were just doing pull-ups in an alien costume… We got a lot of stares from a lot of people,” he shared.
When Dong Li first started making ASMR videos, he tried filming at various areas within his house to find a suitable environment. Eventually, he resorted to filming in the kitchen as it was the only spot in the house that could provide him with absolute silence.
All of his home appliances – including the fans and refrigerator – had to be switched off before setting up his camera and lighting equipment in the kitchen.
Despite finding the right filming spot, the heavy traffic and loud vehicle noises during the day would still affect his recording, leaving him to film his videos at three or four in the morning.
Prior to his enlistment in 2020, time wasn’t a concern for Dong Li as he could shoot his videos on a flexible schedule.
But with the majority of his time now spent on serving the nation, managing his YouTube channel alone seemed well beyond his reach, so he decided to seek additional help by hiring a YouTube manager instead.
“It’s very, very hard to try to think of new content every single week because we post twice a week, or maybe three times at most. And to come up with different kinds of content every single time is very draining,” he said.
He thus turned to his close friend, Li-Ann, who has been managing his channel since early October last year. Some of her responsibilities include searching for ASMR trends, coming up with video ideas and handling post-production.
The amount of time taken – from ideating to filming – usually takes four to five hours for two to three videos. Editing itself will take several hours, making it challenging for him due to his time constraints.
“Every Saturday we will film three videos… After we have finished filming, she will take the videos back home to edit. And maybe I’ll take one to edit on the weekends, which is on a Sunday, before booking back in the night itself,” he said.
Although Dong Li had been making ASMR videos for over a year, his YouTube channel only saw a rapid growth in subscribers after he collaborated with popular ASMR creator, Clareee ASMR.
In their first collaboration, Dong Li submitted a one-minute clip that became part of Clare’s hit video, ‘ASMR with fans’, which garnered over 800,000 views on YouTube.
He said: “That is the point where I just shot up pretty quickly and I think the YouTube algorithm gets it when somebody is doing very well. That spurt gained me thousands and thousands of subscribers.
“After I got recognised a little bit on YouTube, I collaborated with more and more top ASMRtists. That slowly brought me to where I am today.”
As his channel began to take off, it also became a source of income for Dong Li to “put food on the table”.
“Doing my passion and my hobby helps with my financial income. And it’s pretty good because I’m doing what I like to do,” he said.
Dong Li, however, does not consider ASMR as a career path because of YouTube’s unpredictable and unstable algorithm. Given the opportunity, he plans to explore different career pathways like acting in the future.
When asked about the most rewarding part of starting an ASMR channel, Dong Li shared that he was content to make his friends, fans and supporters feel entertained through his videos.
“It’s also very rewarding to know that my videos are actually being recognised,” he shared.
Although Dong ASMR is now running successfully, Dong Li revealed that he had his fair share of doubts when he first started his channel – as making ASMR videos isn’t a conventional hobby that most Singaporeans would pursue.
Some friends were not supportive of his passion and would even mock him.
“It was definitely a challenge. Sometimes I felt a bit down. I spent so much effort on the videos, and I got laughed at,” he said.
Eventually, they came around and began to support his interest in making ASMR videos.
His mother has also been supportive of his YouTube channel and even made cameos in some of his videos.
“My mum was there from the very start and she supported me by just laughing at my videos. It’s a nice thing to talk about when you have your parents’ support,” he said.
When asked about his advice for aspiring youths, Dong Li encourages them to embrace their passion and take a step in following their dreams.
He proudly said: “Don’t be afraid to try. If it’s a passion that you really like and it’s something that you think will work, just try it.
“There may be untapped potential in every path that you try and it might bring you to a happier, much more rewarding place.”
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