Sleep Jar helps people sleep, relax, and focus with a library of over 100 ambient sounds. Founder and CEO Nick Schwab grew Sleep Jar from a hobby to an incredibly successful business by building Alexa Skills.
As Sleep Jar grew in popularity, listeners began to request more content and features, including sleep stories. The customer feedback also signaled a content gap in the larger Alexa Skill marketplace, so Schwab set out on a plan to create exclusive, high-quality stories for Sleep Jar subscribers.
He hired Amy Dean as Sleep Jar’s Head Writer and Michael Fox and Amy Tallmadge as Sleep Jar’s voiceover artists to bring this vision to life. In 2022 the company unveiled their first sleep stories - a series of short stories exclusive to Sleep Jar that are designed to help listeners fall asleep. Today, the company offers over 45 stories and releases new narrations every month.
“Listening to customer feedback, researching market opportunities, and creating quality content is essential to driving customer satisfaction and engagement,” says Schwab. “Offering original stories was an excellent way to address customer demands and increase product value.”
Writing great sleep stories
Dean is a professional writer who has published 16 nonfiction works, primarily in the meditation genre. Her writing focuses on helping others, whether it be facing life challenges or realizing peace of mind. Dean had been freelancing when she learned about the opportunity to create stories for Sleep Jar.
“I connected with Nick and worked under contract to create the first series of stories,” says Dean. “I love the mission that drives these stories: to help people lead healthy and fulfilling lives. I stepped up my collaboration with Nick, and today, I am Sleep Jar’s full-time Head Writer.”
To create sleep stories, Dean takes inspiration from many sources. After learning about lighthouses that sink into the surrounding sand and eventually fall into the ocean, she came up with a unique story concept for Sleep Jar.
“I was fascinated by the physical disappearance of a lighthouse and what that would mean to people who were lighthouse keepers,” says Dean. “I came up with an idea where a lighthouse keeper is watching his beloved lighthouse sink into the sea. He meets a young man who wants to launch a writing career and tells the writer his story.” During the course of this sleep story, the young writer and the keeper develop an emotional connection. Their story plays out against the backdrop of the history of the lighthouse.
Because sleep stories are listened to rather than read, Dean aims to keep the content simple and easy to follow. “I have to keep my sentences short and the story flowing naturally,” says Dean. “I also have to clearly indicate transitions or pauses when shifting to a new character or scene.”
Dean also conducts a great deal of research to help make the sleep stories realistic and accurate. If she places an unusual or difficult word in the story, she adds phonetic spelling and works closely with Sleep Jar’s voice actors to make sure they know how to pronounce it.
Recording sleep stories
Fox has been voice acting for several years. He has narrated nine audio books, and has provided voice-overs for phone systems, web content, training videos, and more. He and Tallmadge joined Sleep Jar in early 2022 as narrators for the company’s stories and other content.
“We want to have an identifiable voice for our stories,” says Fox. “This way, our listeners have a familiar person that they are connecting with on a regular basis.”
Fox and Tallmadge work closely with Dean so that they understand the story, the characters, and how the story elements should be delivered. Then, they experiment with the voice they want to use for every character.
“I change my voice for each character so that listeners can identify who’s speaking. However, I don’t want to change my voice so much that listeners are jolted into a state of wakefulness, and drawn out of the story,” says Fox.
Fox records and edits sleep stories in his home studio, which is equipped with professional recording and sound-proofing equipment, such as sound absorption blankets. Fox has also invested in different microphones, such as a condenser microphone, which is designed to block out background noise. When editing audio files, Fox uses a punch-and-roll technique where he re-records certain spots that contain anomalies or errors that may distract the listener.
Then, Fox uses a technique called dynamic range compression to tone down any loud noises, which could make it difficult for a user to fall asleep. “Using compression, you can make low-volume audio content louder and high-volume content quieter,” says Fox. “I use aggressive compression techniques on sleep stories because I want to prevent the loud parts from stealing the listener’s focus.”
Continuing to invest
When developing an Alexa skill, investing in the right resources is critical for growth. By hiring people to write, record, edit, and proof sleep stories, Schwab is reinvesting revenue the company earns from Alexa In-Skill Purchases (ISP) into Sleep Jar’s long-term content strategy and demonstrating their commitment to customer satisfaction.
“Millions of people rely on Sleep Jar’s soundscapes on Alexa to help them sleep through the night,” says Schwab.“Our stories provide additional benefit to our listeners by helping them unwind from the day and clear their mind of stresses before falling asleep.
Readers can listen to one of Sleep Jar’s stories by asking Alexa to “play a story from Sleep Jar.
“Creating this content is an investment in our company’s mission to improve the mental health of people around the world, and I’m so proud of our entire team for bringing these stories to our customers,” says Schwab.