The Voice That Puts You in the Zone

Meditation apps like Headspace and Calm are helping people relax. What makes the voices they use — now including Matthew McConaughey’s — so hypnotizing?

Ashley Laderer
Elemental
Published in
5 min readJul 26, 2019

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MMeditation is a practice that’s inherently free, yet millions of people are turning to apps — and paying subscription fees — to learn the craft and ideally turn it into a life-changing habit. The two biggest players here are Calm and Headspace, which promise less stress, more happiness, and better sleep from their guided meditations and other in-app features.

Thanks in part to the accessibility of these apps, meditation and mindfulness have moved from being buzzwords to being habits. Calmness-seekers are shelling out anywhere from $59.99 (for Calm premium) to $96 annually (for Headspace premium). Each app is said to have more than 1 million paid subscribers.

Headspace has secured around $75.2M in funding so far, and Calm recently raised $27M (on top of its $88M Series B funding) with the goal of using that money to recruit celebrities for the app’s Sleep Stories (tales to help people fall asleep). The company recently announced that actor Matthew McConaughey will be one of its new voices.

When an app’s livelihood is based on the quality of its guided meditations and lessons, a lot is at stake. The voices of these apps need to become trusted, familiar friends to those who use them regularly. But what makes a good speaking voice? Furthermore, what makes a voice calming? Surely, these guided meditations must be good. Calm has garnered 464.7K ratings averaging 4.8 stars, and Headspace has 530.1K ratings averaging a nearly perfect 4.9 stars.

When it comes to guided meditations, Judson Brewer, MD, PHD, the director of research and innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, says: “The content obviously is important, but I think the tone, cadence, and the space that people provide between the instructions probably matter as much as — if not more than — what they’re actually saying, because you have to be able to set the conditions for the instructions to land.”

“If meditation instructions were delivered through Siri or some A.I.-generated voice that came at a nonhuman cadence,” he…

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Ashley Laderer
Elemental

writer aiming to make people with mental health conditions feel less alone 🦄 it’s okay to be not okay. instagram + twitter @ashley_unicorn