Ask an Expert: A Conversation with Thomas Judd on audiobook narration and voice acting

Ever wondered what it was like to be an audiobook narrator and voice actor? Today on the blog we’re sitting down with Thomas Judd, a talented vocal artist who has narrated over 180 audiobook titles, including books by George Orwell, Bernard Cornwell, James Patterson, David Mitchell, Georgette Heyer and Anton du Beke–as well as titles from our sister company Books Fluent like One Must Tell the Bees: Abraham Lincoln and the Final Education of Sherlock Holmes by J. Lawrence Matthews, where Judd’s performance was highly praised by critics and reviewers. Judd’s audio drama work includes Six Degrees of Assassination (Audible), 2000AD and The Noise (Penguin) and he’s done cmmercial voiceover work includes Fiat, Channel 4, The Times.

Judd shares how to be a great audio narrator, how he got started in vocal work, and how he brings audiobooks to life with the power of his voice.

How did you get into audiobook narration?

I was steered in the direction of audio while I was at drama school. I took part in the BBC Radio Carleton Hobbs competition, and when I graduated a tutor of mine advised me to get in touch with an audiobook studio she had recorded at which was based in Bath, where I’d studied at university. In the meantime, I was spotted performing at Liars’ League, which is a live event in London where actors narrate new short stories by writers. After that I was invited to record my first audiobook and twelve years later here I am!

Can you please tell us more about the other kind of acting and voicework you do/have done?

My background is in theatre, and I do a lot of Shakespeare. My wife runs a company called Open Bar which performs Shakespeare in Fuller’s pub gardens across the south of England. This year I’ll be playing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. I’ve also done VO commercials and audio dramas – I was part of Penguin’s 2000AD audio adaptations last year; I got to play a villain in a Judge Dredd adaptation, which was a lot of fun.

If you were speaking to an aspiring voice actor right now, what attributes would you tell them they need to succeed in the audiobook/voice work industry? What makes a “good” narrator / voice actor?

Firstly, you need a voicereel – that’s absolutely essential. I started out with a couple of them – one specifically for narration, and another with some commercial stuff. Because I didn’t have any professional credits, I just recorded anything I thought suited my voice and once I’d done some professional jobs I put those on there.

I’ve never had a voice agent (I’ve tried!) so I don’t think that’s essential, particularly in the audiobook world. I wrote and wrote, and once the work started coming in, I was able to write to more people and I built contacts that way. It’s definitely possible to succeed as a self-represented VO.

I think of narration as being very similar to any kind of acting performance – it’s about clear storytelling and engagement with the listener. I often imagine I’m just reading to someone else in the room. Sight-reading ability is important for working consistently, because the more fluent readers will always be asked back. And be nice!

You’ve narrated nearly 200 audiobooks (wow!). What do you find challenging while recording audiobook narration? What about it do you enjoy the most?

It demands so much stamina, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect from something that involves sitting down all day! The brainpower that is required is exhausting, and I’ve definitely felt this more recently now that I have two young kids who don’t let me sleep as much as I used to. I tend to spread narration days over a longer period now so that I’m fresher each time.

I absolutely love being a narrator. I get to read and tell so many fantastic stories, I get to play all sorts of characters I would never get to play on stage or TV. I grew up doing impressions, voices and characters so continuing that is definitely my favourite part of the job.

What is something you aspire to do with your acting/vocal career that you haven’t done yet?

I would love to do more drama and radio. I’ve done a few projects where several actors are in the studio together, and it’s so much fun.

Follow Thomas Judd on Twitter: @tjudderman.