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Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed podcaster and professor Dr Craig Harris Richard about his career, what inspired him to start his Sleep Whispers Podcast, and what he hopes to accomplish.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m Dr Craig Harris Richard, Professor of Physiology at Shenandoah University in Virginia. I’ve done research in immunology, reproductive biology, and pharmacogenomics, but my current area of research is the relaxing sensation of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR).
How and why did you start podcasting?
I’ve always struggled to fall asleep easily, so I wanted to create a type of podcast that would help me and might also help others. I based it on my ASMR research and the widely reported calming and sleep-inducing effects of listening to someone whisper gently.
What is your current podcast called, and how did you come up with the name?
My current podcast is called Sleep Whispers. It is not a very creative name. I simply whisper to help people fall asleep, so ‘Sleep Whispers’ seemed like a good descriptive name. I was a tad more more creative with my host name. I use my middle name ‘Harris’ basically because I was so nervous initially about being a whispering podcaster.
What platforms can we find Sleep Whispers on?
I’m on all the major podcast and audio platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, etc.
What is Sleep Whispers about?
The goal of every episode is to relax my listeners with my whispering while also distracting them from their stressful thoughts that prevent them from falling asleep. The content of my episodes include bedtime stories, meditations, poems, trivia questions, and Wikipedia pages.
Do you host Sleep Whispers alone, or have guest hosts/partners?
I am the only host. I believe it is easiest to fall asleep if you always hear the same voice, at the same volume, and in the same style. Having guests or any other voices on my podcast would result in less predictable audio for the listeners, making it harder for them to fall asleep.
Do you edit Sleep Whispers or have someone who does it for you?
I do all the editing myself with iZotope Rx, which is audio editing software used by the film and TV industry. It is very expensive but worth it because I can easily strip out stray sounds and noises that may be disruptive to my listeners.
Do you script Sleep Whispers, or just chat as you go?
I script every episode but I still treat it as a suggested outline rather than a teleprompter – this keeps it sounding natural. The advantage of using a script is that it enables me to keep my speaking rate steady and free of vocal crutches. An inconsistent talking pattern, filled with “uhhh”, “ummmm”, “like”, and “you know” can be annoying and disruptive to someone who is trying to drift off to sleep.
How has Sleep Whispers changed or developed since you began?
My early episodes were like variety shows, each one was filled with updates, listener feedback, and a short story or Wikipedia article. I now dedicate each episode to one focus, like just sharing listener feedback or just reading a bedtime story. This has worked better because listeners have their preferred content they like to fall asleep to, so now they can choose a whole episode of that type of content instead of a part of one episode.
What are you biggest challenges with Sleep Whispers?
Doing a whispered podcast is so much harder than I expected! I need to have very high-quality equipment to accurately capture my whispers, so I have spent a lot more money on gear than I ever would have thought I would. I also want pure silence when I record, which never happens, because stray sounds can be disruptive to someone trying to fall asleep. So I have to be extra alert for mic bumps, the crinkling of my clothes, people walking inside my house, washing machines, dishwashers, neighbors playing basketball, dogs barking, train whistles, airplane noises, lawn mowers, and every other sound that I normally don’t even notice.
What are your favourite podcasts to listen to?
There is so much to learn about being a good podcaster, so my favorite podcasts are all about the art and science of podcasting. These podcasts about podcasting include Podnews, Podcasters’ Roundtable, Ask the Podcast Coach, Podcast Rodeo Show, Podcast Engineering Show, The Feed, New Media Show, She Podcasts, and Bandrew Says Podcast.
How and where do you promote Sleep Whispers?
I’m horrible at promoting and marketing my podcast. I don’t do any social media, instead I mostly rely on word of mouth. I have formed some good friendships with other podcasters with terrific shows, so we sometimes will mention each others’ show to help listeners find a new and wonderful podcast.
Do you earn money from podcasting, or is it a hobby?
Although it is just a hobby, I currently earn some money via listeners who support my show. Before I had any podcast supporters, I was losing money every month due to all the expenses. Their support, and some prior ads I have run, have helped greatly to cover the costs of my equipment, podcast hosting, editing software, and my efforts.
What’s something you never expected about podcasting? What have you learned that surprised you?
The challenge has surprised me. I thought that after a month or two of podcasting that I would have everything figured out. But it has now been 5 years and I’m still making regular changes to improve my microphone, recorder, home studio, episode content, whisper style, website, and just about everything related to my podcast.
What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to start podcasting?
It will be much more work than you expect, especially if you want to create a quality production that reaches a lot of people. Additionally, making significant revenue from a new podcast may be as likely as being drafted by the NFL as a new football player at the high school level. Making a great podcast requires a lot of time, talent, startup costs, marketing, and even some luck can help.
And, finally, are your proud of what you’re accomplishing with your podcast? Is it worth the effort?
Yes! Listener feedback is powerful fuel for me, if listeners didn’t share that my podcast was helpful to them then I wouldn’t see a purpose to keep podcasting. Reviews like this recent one on Apple Podcasts motivate me to keep making episodes, “Soooo relaxing. His soothing whispers help me get to sleep very quickly. I always look forward to going to bed on Sundays after the latest episode has dropped, LOL.”
Pop all your work, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
- Professor of Physiology, Shenandoah University: https://www.su.edu/faculty-staff/faculty/craig-richard/
- Host of the Sleep Whispers podcast: https://sleepwhispers.com/about/
- Founder of the ASMR University website: https://asmruniversity.com/
- Presenter of the TEDx Talk about ASMR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTW1kSxeFy0
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