Five Questions: Joshua Young, professional audiobook narrator

Joshua Young
Joshua Young of Stories Should Breathe at work

Joshua Young is a professional audiobook narrator whom I met through the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), a marketplace pairing authors with narrators. I posted a project to narrate Fall of the Green Land, book one of my science fiction / fantasy series, The Future History of the Grail. More than a dozen narrators auditioned, but Joshua’s audition blew me away with his versatility. Check out a sample of his work on my website’s audiobook page.

I asked him to participate in my occasional Five Questions series. I pose five questions (plus a bonus question) to authors and artists to get a sense of who they are. Here’s his responses.

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I was born in London, England to an American librarian and a British Swiss-French poet, raised in south Mississippi (Oh, the humidity!), and attended college at Emory University in Atlanta, where I studied pre-med and theater arts. My mother being a prominent actress in her heyday, she inspired me to take the stage following my freshman year of high school. Teachers and directors noted my knack for creative characters and voices. I’ve been acting ever since, in various forms and capacities.

How did you get started in voice work? What was your first published project?

On a long bus ride for our high school senior trip, I began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to a former girlfriend. A few chapters in, others began gathering around to listen. Soon I had a sizable chunk of the bus enthralled, and I thought, “Wow! I could make a living off this!” When I arrived at college, I purchased a USB microphone, a decent pair of monitor headphones, taught myself basic audio and video editing, and began recording myself reading books. Not long after, I posted some demos of that work on ACX, and, to my amazement, an author reached out to me, wanting me to narrate their work!

My first published project was for an annual British short story competition called Remastered Words. The winners have their work made into audiobooks, and these end up in the exceptional Fabled Journey anthology collection on Audible. For my first full-length novel, I narrated The Phantom of Faerie Mountain by Purple Dragonfly-winning author E.M. McIntyre. We collaborated for the next several years to complete her fantastical Red King Trilogy. Check them out!

How do you approach a character as a narrator? How does it differ from stage work?

It always begins with an author’s description of their character. I’ll then go through the manuscript, search for dialogue from the character I’m workshopping, and see what their voice sounds like in my head. Usually it’s an echo of a favorite cartoon character of mine or an actor in a very specific role. I do my best to emulate that original voice and then tailor it to the specific character based on the way they talk, their demeanor, and, perhaps most importantly (and often overlooked), their sense of humor. The most challenging thing for me is a very serious character.

My approach always begins with an author’s description of their character.

Stage work is a totally different beast. Vocal projection matters so much more, as you’re playing to a live audience in a larger space. Behind a mic, I actually need to sometimes limit or subdue my noise level in order to keep the audio levels from peaking or sounding terrible. In stage work, the script needs to be in your head, whereas with audiobooks the script is right in front of you. I can do as many takes as I want, and if I make a mistake, I can simply try again. I’m all alone in a dark space with tons of noise isolating materials, so it can feel like I’m in the void. But onstage, what you get is what you get. You’re exposed. Vulnerable. You cannot take back a mistake in a live performance. It’s exhilarating… and terrifying.

What is your advice to someone interested in narrating audiobooks?

Start now. Don’t wait another moment. Get yourself a USB mic, some decent Sony or Audio Technica monitor headphones, and a cheap pop filter on Amazon, download Audacity on your computer, and look up some YouTube tutorials on how to get the best out of your specific mic. Record some one-minute chunks of your favorite books, clean up the audio, and post them on a site like ACX or Voice Bunny. Search for books in genres that interest you and audition. Cast a wide net. Face rejection. You’ll get a hit eventually. Passion is evident, and, if you want it, go for it.

Do you have any non-narration projects you can share with us?

Unfortunately, most of my work outside audiobooks is staged, so not too much has survived. However, I have lent my voice to a couple of animated short films. Here’s my favorite, entitled Enzio Gazpacho, Deadly Chef Extraordinaire, developed for and featured on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s site I’m also currently playing The Grinch in the Leawood Stage Company’s Summer 2021 production of Seussical the Musical in Kansas City, Kansas. It’s free, so, if you’re in the area July 9-11 or July 15-17, come on down to Ironwoods Park!

If you could narrate for any author, living or dead, whom would it be, and why?

Cheesy answer, but I’d like to go back to my voice acting roots and (officially) narrate the entire Harry Potter series. Though I do adore Stephen Fry’s rendition of those works.

Do you have any questions for Joshua? Tell us in the Comments.

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