Narrator: Joe Hempel

Posted September 18, 2015 by Paul (Audiobook Reviewer) in Interview / 0 Comments

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Tell us a little about yourself (Your bio).
Well, there’s not much to say. I’m a full time TV Engineer who loves reading, working out (I’m an NASM certified personal trainer), video games, and wrestling (worked for 10 years in the business).

I’m also a step dad to two girls (5 and 8) and a dad to one boy (7) who’s got cerebral palsy.

After operating for around 3 years I shut it down to focus on learning how to narrate.

How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
You know, I’ve always like audio dramas and audiobooks. About 5 years ago I did some voice acting with Pendant Audio and Phoenix Productions and loved every bit. I’m not really sure why I stopped. When I heard about ACX I decided to give it a shot, and it turned out, while I still don’t know a whole lot, I do pretty well.

I started with a mic on a table just last year and now have a little home studio that I use for my latest books.

What do you do when you are not narrating?
I wear many hats. Full time job is an engineer at a local CBS affiliate, 3rd shift. I also do a bit of personal training. Ever hear of Insanity? I’m a certified Insanity instructor and lead people through these things as well.

Oh and I’m training for a marathon and IronMan 70.3 Chattanooga.

Plus 3 kids and a wonderful fiance and I barely find time for sleep!

It’s okay though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do you have the luxury of picking and choosing the projects that you work on or do you take as many as you have time for?
Since I do this very part time, I audition for projects that I think I would find interesting. I actually have gotten a LOT of work and I’m almost completely tapped for time as far as recording goes, I currently have 11 projects on the table as of this interview.

For those of us that are unfamiliar with your work. How would you describe your narration style and voice? What would the one audiobook you would suggest for people to listen to your best work?
You know, I guess I would describe my voice as more youthful than a lot of people my age (37), and I try to bring a little bit of the audio drama flare to it. I’m not talking about adding music or sound effects, but try to really get into the characters and really make the dialogue pop.

As far as work, that’s tough because I’m all over the place. On the versatility side, I would suggest SLUSH by Glenn Rolfe, a short story collection, but that’s not that great from a technical stand point.

A better option from a technical standpoint would be Pandora’s Brain by Calum Chase. That was one of my favorites to narrate because I find the subject of Artificial General Intelligence so fascinating.

My absolute favorite to narrate though isn’t out yet. It’s called Acheron Highway by Gary Jonas. Think Harry Dresden meets Tex Murphy (look him up if you don’t know who that is). That had a scene in it where I almost cried because bad things happened to characters I become so invested in.

As a narrator, do you get compensated in a set amount or do you also receive royalties from the individual sales? Do you like one more than the other? Has there ever been an per finished hour book that you wish was a royalty deal, what book? Or vise versa?
I started out doing only work on Royalty Share from people that I enjoyed reading already. I gained a LOT of knowledge, and I studied the craft and now I’m in a position to where over the past couple of months I’ve been able to negotiate good rates for work.

What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
My greatest achievement is keeping at this. I didn’t know what to expect, but almost a year later, taking what I’ve learned and advice that was hard to hear from some very generous folks that do this for a living and are considered the gold standard, things are starting to pay off.

My most difficult…hmm…..I’m not sure there has been anything crazy difficult. Yet.

Do you have a list of your own favorite narrators, who inspires you? Do you have a list of favorite audiobook that you have listened to?
Marc Thompson is at the top of this list. I LOVE Star Wars audiobooks, and he brings these things to life better than anyone else I’ve ever listened. His ability to re-create the cast voices is eerie. I’m currently listening to Aftermath and his Admiral Ackbar is scary.

There is also Will Patton. He is able to create this tension in his voice that seems so effortless.

What is your favorite thing to do? Pastime, hobby, obsession, etc.
Video games, running, training, geocaching.

I don’t have a ton of free time, so my training is where I have my “”me”” time, and then I can get back into things with the family.

Do you ever get specific notes or ideas from the writer about how something should be read? What is a helpful note, and what is, shall we say, less helpful?
Funny enough, I don’t. I usually ask questions before going into the studio. There has only been one request from a publisher to read something in a particular way, and it was only like 3 pages, so no big deal.

Nothing unhelpful has been sent thus far.

Do you have an initial process or routine by which you get to know the book you’re going to be reading? Do you mark them up, for example?
I read the book first. I want to figure out what makes the characters tick. I don’t mark up fiction, but I’ve been marking up non-fiction recently and it’s been extremely helpful.

How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
The voices in my head really kind of do it for me.

Is your studio in your home? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? Do you have something that you would consider unique in your setup? What is it?
My studio is at home. It’s not soundproof, so a big disadvantage is outside noise can get in the way during certain times of the day. Outside cars, lawnmowers etc.

The advantage is I don’t have to be anywhere to record, and I can start and stop when I want.

What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
I’ve got 3 kids…..I record when they’re asleep. It’s not serious either, it’s just me.

How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
I record for a couple hours at a time, it’s about all I have time for on a good day.

What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
I don’t have a favorite genre. I’m having so much fun with this that I’m happy to read anything.

I’ve read science fiction, medical thrillers, extreme horror, fantasy noir, non-fiction, you name it!

What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
My favorite character had been hands down Jonathan Shade from Acheron Highway. LOVE the sarcastic tone, stilted view of the war, the down on his luck gumshoe in a fantastical setting. I can’t wait for that to hit the shelves.

How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
You just have to shake your head sometimes. I was reading a book called The Science of Likability, and the author was talking about reverse psychology and kids. Saying something to the effect of, making vacuuming the floor something they shouldn’t do, so naturally they want to do it.

I got a bit chuckle out of that because anyone with kids knows that it doesn’t work like that.

I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
I like “performed” because that’s what you’re doing. You are acting. Narrator just implies reading, and that’s not exactly what we do.

How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?

Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
I don’t.

Do you have a preference for reading fiction or nonfiction for pleasure? And is what you read for pleasure what you’d prefer to read for audiobooks?
Definitely fiction for pleasure. I don’t really like to read non-fiction for pleasure. Although after narrating several non-fiction titles, I’m starting to enjoy those and may pick some up.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
Ears open, mouth shut. You know nothing, don’t pound your chest and make waves or you will make the wrong people unhappy. They ARE watching.

I still know nothing. I’ve only been at this for a year, but I’ve learned so much just from listening and reading to what others have had to say without interjecting a “”know-it-all”” attitude into it.

What has been your favorite project and why?
Pandora’s Brain and the companion non-fiction (forthcoming) book, Surviving AI. There is a lot of interesting things happening in the world of artificial intelligence, and these things need to be told.

The subject matter is so fascinating, and it’s one instance where science fiction and reality are so close to each other that it’s almost hard to believe.

Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
I think they are different experiences, but I’m not sure if it shouldn’t be called “reading”.

Are you working on any special projects?
Nothing special at the moment.

About Joe Hempel

Read the ABR narrator interview

Well, there’s not much to say. I’m a full time TV Engineer who loves reading, working out (I’m an NASM certified personal trainer), video games, and wrestling (worked for 10 years in the business).

I’m also a step dad to two girls (5 and 8) and a dad to one boy (7) who’s got cerebral palsy.

After operating for around 3 years I shut it down to focus on learning how to narrate.

About Paul (Audiobook Reviewer)

Paul is a quiet man who shares his passion of books through reviews assisting others select books through honest and professional reviews. Having built a team of professional reviewers, Audiobookreviewer (ABR) is the result of his passion of reading/listening of books. His family consists of a wife, 2 cats, and 2 African Grey parrots ( More frequently than not, you will see Paul plugged into the audio of his technology listening to books while riding his bike 100+ miles, tending to a huge fruit and vegetable garden, growing bonsai trees and operating his own largest online bonsai magazine (

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