Support Big Gay Fiction Podcast on PatreonNick J. Russo joins us to talk about how drumming in a band was his gateway to becoming an audiobook narrator. He also discusses why he loves romances, the wide range of books he voices, and what his favorite sub-genres are. Nick also has the scoop on some of his latest releases as well as what’s coming up next.

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Show Notes

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Interview Transcript – Nick J. Russo

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Jeff: Nick, welcome to the podcast. It is so wonderful to have you here.

Nick: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here.

Jeff: Yeah. After we had you on for Holiday Storytime we needed to have you on to get your whole story.

Nick: Oh yeah. That was so much fun. I had a lot of fun doing that with the other guys.

Jeff: I so had a great time that night, just hearing everybody do their thing, live. I’ve seen narrators do the live things like GRL and stuff and switch the voices out. What is it like for you to do readings live, where you are reading it and have to click the voices around without the benefit potentially of, start, stop, edit, et cetera.

Nick: It’s a little nerve wracking, especially when I first started doing it. My first year at GRL was 2017 and I was expected to just show up and read in front of a panel of potentially, I think it was in the hundreds of people who were in that panel hall that day. And I’m like, Oh man, I’m used to stopping and starting. And if I don’t say a word right, I get to redo it. But I kind of prepped myself to be able to just be a bit forgiving with my read if I didn’t nail it exactly how I would’ve said it in the booth.

And it’s like, Oh, well, I’m not going to sit here and say retake,

Jeff: take two, everybody. Hang on a second.

Nick: Just pause start. But, after I did it the first time, it became a lot easier each time after that. And it’s a different experience for sure. But I enjoy it nonetheless.

It’s, it’s equally entertaining to narrate in front of a live audience.

Jeff: and at GRL certainly, I mean, it’s probably a very forgiving audience cause everybody’s a fan already, but it’s a lot of people that show up to those narrator panels.

Nick: Oh yeah. Yeah. In Denver that first year, it was the very first thing on the schedule.

And again, that was my first ever experience. So I show up and, okay, first thing on your schedule, read in front of everyone. I’m like, Oh boy, here we go.

Jeff: Oh yeah, in Denver it was the first time they’d done that. And it was the only thing on the schedule. So yeah, that room was packed. I remember that I got stuck in the back because I got there too late.

Nick: A good thing. I had a drink beforehand.

Jeff: So for those who don’t know, what is your origin story? I mean, how did Nick Russo become an audiobook narrator? What did that path look like?

Nick: Well, my origin story begins about seven years ago. It was right at the start of 2014. I was in a band called Red Eye Dawn with two other guys. And one of them you may recognize . Drew Bacca was also in the band.

Jeff: Okay. Yeah, I know that name. I think many of our listeners will know that name too.

Nick: Listeners will probably know that name for sure. And during practice one day, he was talking about how he was recording audio books through a studio called Falcon Sound Company, also a name you probably know.

And I was already familiar with them. We’d actually recorded some of the album we were working on with Falcon Sound already. So when Drew was talking about it, I was so intrigued and I wanted in on it. So I didn’t have a lot of experience other than some really small work on some high school productions, little to no experience acting or voice acting.

But I thought it sounded like a lot of fun. I just thought this was going to be a really cool hobby. So I approached John and asked him if I could have a shot at working with him on something. He gave me an audition and sure enough, I got signed with my first book shortly thereafter.

And while it was, similar to live reading, you’re a bit nervous doing your first book. I think every narrator goes through that with the first book. Someone entrusted me, just some guy, to narrate their story. I was thrilled and I had so much fun coming up with the different voices and just performing it as best I could.

And like I said, it was a hobby at first. I didn’t think much beyond it, besides just, it was fun. I was working a day job at a cellular service company and just considered it a creative outlet for me, in addition to being in a band. But it was after my third or fourth title, I came into the studio one day , a long day of troubleshooting phones at the office, and John pulls me aside and he says that last book you did, you really are making some waves, man. And that was kind of the moment right there. I’m like this could be beyond a hobby for me. I could actually make this into a gig, a career of some kind. So over the next year or so I made it almost my singular goal to make that work.

I was at the studio as many days a week as I could narrating books and trying to make a name for myself. And then it was only a few months later that it started to turn into a part-time gig. And then by the fall of that same year, I forcibly made it into a full-time gig. I quit my job and I’m like, I’m going to make this work hell or high water.

And then less than a year after that, I set up my own home studio with my wife who is my producing partner as well. She handles all the post-production work on my books. And then the rest I would say is history. I’ve recorded over 200 titles, received some awards, including the best LGBTQ+ audiobook in the independent audio book awards , travel across the country and world, met fans, authors, another narrators, lifelong friends.

And I couldn’t really be happier.

Jeff: And for those who don’t know, the John that you mentioned is John Solo, who actually runs Falcon sound company of course, and is a narrator in his own right as well.

Nick: Oh yeah. Yeah. Very talented, man. I mean, in addition to being a great narrator, he is a tech wizard. He helped me set up my studio. He’s always trying out cutting edge technology to enhance the audio book process. He’s quite something.

Jeff: You mentioned high school productions that you’d been in, had you considered any aspect of acting/voice work/performance beyond the music side in the band?

Nick: You know, as a fantasy, as a daydream, because I graduated high school in 2004 and at that point, the internet definitely wasn’t what it is today.

The idea of doing any sort of voice acting, I would need to move to New York or Los Angeles or something like that to get into what I do. And that just never really appealed to me. So I’m like, it’d be cool if I could do that, but it’s just not realistic. So ‘no’ up until I got introduced, about seven years ago, it never even really crossed my mind as a serious consideration.

Jeff: And how did you land in m/m romance? Is it just because that’s the work that was coming in or did it become the thing that interests you or interested you the most as you did more of it?

Nick: Well, m/m romance was my first title. What I’ve been doing since the very beginning for several books were narrated by Andrew Grey, K.C. Wells.

I’ve done several other titles in different sub genres of romance and even just out of romance altogether, but romance is definitely what I call home. Yeah. Nice warm blanket where I’m most comfortable is by far the, the most titles I’ve done are m/m romance. I enjoy it.

Jeff: What is it about romance that attracts you?

Nick: I think that I like the general tropes that you find in romance. I like, a couple getting together and then experiencing some sort of drama together. I like the settings that are combined with romance. They’re always super interesting to me. I think I’ve made , according to some of my fans, a bit of a name for me for some of the sex scenes as well.

I think I do a pretty good job, it’s just, it’s comfortable to me. I like the general tropes that you find in romance.

Jeff: And you certainly cut across so many sub genres, which of course then you’re cutting across tropes too. I mean, just looking at some of what you’d released just within December between like “Red Heir” and “Mountainway Chant” and “Taxes and TARDIS,” I mean, that’s three wildly different things.

Nick: Well, yeah, pretty massively different sub genres aren’t they? Yeah, it’s quite something how diverse the romance industry is. I guess when I first started , I didn’t really have any knowledge on it. I just kind of assumed, it would be pretty much all the same, but that’s just based off of having no information at all.

But as soon as you start exploring it, you’re like, Oh, there are titles in every which way you can imagine. Take those three you mentioned. “Red Heir,” that’s a fantasy. You’ve got “Mountainway Chant,” that’s a thriller- it’s a chase for a serial killer. And then “Taxes and TARDIS,” that’s just a nice fluffy, modern day love story. So they go every which way and it keeps me interested for sure. To be able to switch from one of those to another, those, as you said, those were all in one month. So I had quite a diverse month in November.

Jeff: Do you prep differently for the different type of book as you get ready to go into the booth with it?

Nick: I’d say the prep work is generally the same from one title to the next. I’ll give it an initial review, see what kind of characters the book calls for. And then I’ll do my best to match my performance to what’s written. And, if that calls for a British accent, like in “Taxes and TARDIS” or, a worthy crime boss in “Mountainway Chant”or an orc with a soft heart in “Red Heir,” I do my best to match what’s written, but generally the process is all the same.

Jeff: Do research voices for things that are like the European accents and things like that?

Nick: Oh yeah. So part of my day is, if I’ve got accents that I’m not particularly comfortable with, is sitting there with some YouTube videos and trying to refine it.

So yeah, I’ve definitely expanded my repertoire with over 200 titles at this point, but some of them take a lot more research than others. No doubt.

Jeff: How would you say that your approach has changed from those early books seven years ago?

Nick: Definitely refined. I know the process much better.

I know what to expect. More than I did just flying by the seat of my pants back then. And, having a business partner in my wife is, is incredible. Being able to bounce ideas off her and she likes to say that when she QC’s my work, she likes to tell everyone that she tells me what I did wrong, so between, between her creative input and just my experience it’s definitely gotten more refined.

Jeff: Any particular types of stories or characters that are like your favorite to work on?

Nick: Well I’d call myself a pretty big geek. I love all things Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and whatnot. So anytime I get a chance to voice something in the scifi genre or fantasy or cyber punk, I get really excited.

There’s just something so fun and unique about playing characters in these fantasy settings that really sparks or really speaks to the nine-year-old in me. He was just a little boy like, Oh my God, this is so cool. But I find enjoyment in any given character I get to perform, but definitely something, the ones that have stuck with me for years after, “Under the Rushes” where I essentially got to play a steam punk version of Batman, a rogue angel in the “Dichotomy of Angels” or a vampire assassin in the “Falling Sky” series. So I definitely like the more fantastical characters. Right now I’m having a blast, voicing the sequel to “Red Heir,” “Elf Defense.” And just those characters are larger than life and hysterical.

Jeff: How much do you collaborate with the author when you’re going through these and establishing your voices or is it all a matter of the performance is yours and the written word belongs to them?

Nick: So I work with the author. Initially they’ll have some notes for me. I actually send them a bit of a worksheet when I set up a book with them, just to, if there’s anything particularly that they want me to know about, what’s not spoken or what’s not written on the page and who these characters are.

And they’ll have some notes in terms of what they generally have in mind. Some have something specific, some are completely open for interpretation. So I’ll use that and then I’ll give them my first 15, which is generally the first chapter of any given book and just see if I’m on the right page or not.

And then if they approve that, then I go through the rest of it. Sometimes if an author is particular about some characters that show up later in the book, I will send them some prerecorded samples of those just to be sure, I don’t want to finish the production they are not happy with particular thing, but yeah, more often than not, they give me some creative liberty to voice it as I see fit.

Jeff: And I imagine you must have libraries of voices so that you can go back if you’re doing a series and remind yourself of what somebody sounded like back in book one, when they actually show up in book four again or something.

Nick: Precisely. Oh yeah. I mean, some of these series there’s 20, 30, 40 different characters, and one might show up, as you say, at the beginning, and then he doesn’t show up until book five and it’s like, wait a minute I have no idea what that voice sounded like. So yeah, a whole library of samples to consult, just to be sure of that very thing.

Jeff: Is it ever a worry with series that go on for, five, eight, how many ever books it is that you run out of voices? I mean, is that a thing that can happen or at least a concern that can happen?

Nick: You know, it crosses my mind on occasion, especially when they go for that long.

I think that the key there is not necessarily to worry about running out of voices because, of course I’m only one guy altering my voice so much, but rather matching the performance and the character appropriately. If my voice sounds the same, but that voice is narrating a straight laced do gooder in one book maybe I’ll give them a more reserved and lacking confidence type of personality.

But then I use that exact same voice to play like a rogue biker alpha and another, for example, oozing, swagger, and charm. Then I don’t think it really makes much of a difference if that voice pitch wise sounds the same, just because of the performance overshadows that.

Jeff: This might be asking you to pick a favorite child, but I have to ask it anyway. Are there favorite characters or stories sitting throughout your catalog of these 200 plus titles?

Nick: It’s definitely too hard of a question. I would say I find a favorite something, you know, almost every book I do.

Whether it’s a particular character, general storyline , even just the setting, there’s always something that draws me in and sticks with me every time I get done recording it. As an example, I’m in the middle of recording a series by Nikcy James that takes place in Jasper, Alberta. It’s a small town nestled deep within the Canadian Rockies.

And I got to say, in addition to writing phenomenal characters you genuinely feel for, and want to see happy by the end of the book, the way she describes that town is just insanely breathtaking. And after I pulled it up on Google maps, because I didn’t do that beforehand, but I looked at it afterward.

She definitely nailed it. I’ve never heard of it before reading her book. I never heard of that town before, but now I feel like I’ve actually been there and my wife and I actually joked that we’d like to retire there. It’s that gorgeous and breathtaking, so there’s always something in a book.

There’s always something that sticks with me I could call my favorite, but to pick one book overall, it’d be too hard.

Jeff: My thing with books and towns is the towns I ultimately want to go to don’t actually exist.

Nick: Right! I mean, yeah. There’s other series that I’ve done that also sound really cool, but then lo and behold, it’s entirely fake. I’m like, well, that sucks. I wanted to go and travel there. But this one, Jasper that, and she even uses real places in her book, like real locations within Jasper. So I’ve even looked those up and it’s just awesome.

It’s really cool to see.

Jeff: That’s very cool. Now I’m gonna have to go read these books to learn about this Canadian town.

Nick: Highly recommend it because, like I said, the characters are phenomenal too. I mean, it had me engaged the entire time.

Jeff: many books are you able to get through in an average month?

Nick: I’d say it depends on the length.

So average book I can usually get through. I’d say three to four is about what I generally do. I try to shoot for about a book a week. So about an eight hour book. Usually it takes me about five days to do.

Jeff: Right, because I assume you could only talk so much per day before the quality of voice just drains out at some point.

Nick: Oh yeah. It’s definitely not a matter of like, Oh, it’s an eight hour book, so eight hours. No, no, it takes much longer than that. And as you say, you can only be in the booth for so long. I try to do a two-hour session in the morning, two hour session in the evening. And that keeps me on pace to get it done in a reasonable time and not kill my voice.

Jeff: Do you still drum? I mean, I think that’s a good question. Are you still a drummer in a band somewhere? Are there drums in the garage, perhaps?

Nick: There are drums in the crawl space. I stopped drumming I’d say a year or two after narration. I think it just took the majority of my creative capacity.

And also, trying to make it work full-time for the first year. So just overall took up the majority of my time. I would like to get back into it though. And actually, I may not even be a drummer I’m I’m kinda interested in picking up the bass guitar, so we’ll see. But I’ve been drumming since I was a kid since nine or 10.

I took private lessons old enough until I was old enough to join the school band. So yeah, the music has been a big part of my life for sure.

Jeff: I find that to be a thread with several of the narrators we’ve talked to, Sean Crisden has a musical side, john Solo certainly did. Finn Sterling was in a band, is there a correlation there between being a musician and being a voice actor?


Nick: know, maybe a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B. I think that being creative as a musician, it makes it probably easier to be creative as a voice actor doing audiobooks, because you can understand pacing a little bit better than someone that perhaps isn’t experienced in music and rhythm.

But you know, also It wasn’t necessarily anything music related that brought me into narration other than just a lovely coincidence, with Drew being a narrator already. So I can’t say that anything particularly draws musicians to it, but I’d say it certainly helps.

Jeff: Talking on the creativity lines, how do you keep your creative energy flowing as you just go from book to book to book? Trying to get, the three to four, and who knows that they’re short enough, maybe more out?

Nick: Honestly, it’s probably one of the toughest parts about working in the creative field and for yourself, in my opinion. Anyway I love what I do. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but it’s definitely easy to experience burnout. I’d say after so long and I found that the best way to combat that is to just stick to a routine. I try to get up at the same time every day, stay consistent with when I get into the booth and splitting up my time into a morning session and evening session.

Earlier on I used to try one single session mid afternoon and that was just a recipe for disaster when it comes to burnout, I was losing my voice quicker. It was feeling a lot more monotonous to be in there. So I actually took a leaf out of the great Kenneth Obi’s book in addition to splitting up my sessions into two throughout the day. And generally working on two books at the same time in any given day, one in the morning when the evening, and that also helps just keep burnout from kicking in. And so yeah, I’ll also say just keeping a schedule and keeping things fresh helped me stay creative throughout any given month.

Jeff: Two books at the same time kind of makes my head explode a little bit as an author. It’s very hard for me to write on two books at once. I might be able to write one and be in edits on one, but I can’t drive the creative energy to write two at the same time. As you’re doing that, do you at least split up the genre. So maybe your contemporary in the morning session and Sci-fi or suspense in the afternoon so there’s a little differentiation there?

Nick: I don’t do that intentionally. It’s just, it’s whatever is on my schedule for that particular month. I pair it that way, but there are times where I’ll go in and do a a modern story in the morning and then I’ve got some really weird something going on in the evening. It’s definitely happened before, but then in contrast is the times where, I’ve got a shifter romance in the morning and a shifter romance in the evening, but two separate stories entirely. So no, I don’t do that intentionally. But it’s not a bad idea. I might have to consider that to keep it fresh.

Jeff: Possible process refinement.

Nick: Taking notes.

Jeff: Cause I could just see where you to get yourself back into the right vocal space to those characters, which is why I was thinking that you might split them that way.

Nick: I think them being separate stories, separate characters is enough for me. And then as we discussed earlier, I just, as long as I stay on top of those voices, kick and jump back into them at will, from going into the morning versus the evening, then now it works out.

Jeff: I like that, and that’s impressive. Maybe I need to take a page out of your book so I can do some different writing stuff to see how that might work.

Nick: That might work.

Jeff: Do you have time to read for pleasure at all in the midst of all this or is it always just reading to prep books?

Nick: I don’t read as much for pleasure as I’d like to, but I have been actively working to change that over the past few months. I’m a bit of a political junkie too, so I just picked up “Against the Web” by Michael Brooks and that was really fascinating read.

I’m not sure that would be something I’d recommend to people interested in romance. If you’re in a political, analysis, that was a lot of fun. And then just Audible in general, I don’t. For as much as I record, I don’t listen to a whole lot on there. But I do use it for language programs .I do do that. I I dabble in like, Pimsleur, that’s fun to learn some new languages on there. I had trouble sleeping the other night, so I went in and listened to volume one of Pimsleur Japanese.

Jeff: Interesting. Did you absorb some along the way as you started to drift off?

Nick: I can now say [Nick speaks Japense here], which I know I knew no Japanese prior to going into it the other night. I’m sure I butchered it, but yeah, that’s a start, I guess.

Jeff: That’s going to be interesting to have to somehow put into the transcript for this episode, but this is where Nick speaks Japanese and just put that in brackets.

Nick: Japense butchering is what you can call it.

Jeff: What does that mean for those who might be

Nick: curious?

What it’s supposed to mean is “I speak a little Japanese.” but if there’s any people who are fluent in Japanese listening to this, I’m sorry for butchering it there.

Jeff: Do you have something that you’ve read recently, obviously for your job that you would actually recommend to our listeners either to catch your narration of it when it happens or just to read because it’s a really good book?

Nick: I would definitely recommend the “Red Heir” series. Absolutely hilarious fantasy story.

The two ladies that write it, Sarah Honey and Lisa Henry, had me belly laughing the entire way through. I mean, it just starts with a bang with a dungeon escape gone wrong and it just keeps you engaged the entire time. So I cannot recommend that series enough. I’m excited for the second one to come out.

Jeff: I will say, as I was prepping to talk to you and I saw that I’m like, that sounds hilarious. I think I might need to read back.

Nick: They’re so funny. They’ve got an orc named Dave. I mean, it’s so good.

Jeff: How do you deal with that when you’re in the booth? Like those moments in a book where it’s like, suddenly you as the reader, want to bust out laughing or having an emotional moment, or is that just where the outtake reel increases itself?

Nick: No doubt for sure. I mean, especially they have a tendency to kind of go off on tangents. And, the characters, having an inner monologue thought and it’s a paragraph long, but then it will divert to a second thing. And so more often than not, it’s like a single sentence too. They just kind of ramble on and on and on and on.

And so like, I’m like trying to get through it and perform it and do it well. But between running out of breath and just, I start busting up laughing, I’m like, okay, all right. We’re going to have to do that again from the top.

Jeff: And they’re running out of air part. Cause at some point it’s just gone.


Nick: you know, and sometimes that works. Sometimes I’ll leave those in, in these particular books because it works well because of how ridiculous and over the top, it is that by the end of the sentence, I’m sounding a bit like this, like where I’ve intentionally run out of air and it’s like, okay, that’s played.

You pair that with sometimes I do have to stop because the line is just so,so silly. Yeah, it’s, there’s definitely an outtake reel for that one.

Jeff: Be interesting. I wonder what Audible would think if people started tagging on outtakes.

Nick: It’d be pretty popular. The number of outtakes I have in any given book is vast.

Let me tell you, I don’t generally keep them because I just, with the way I record that they they get recorded over, but there’s some that I’ll keep because I’m like, that’s got to show up somewhere I imagine.

Jeff: The extras file somewhere. It could be a whole new thing that the extras for audio books.

Nick: Oh my God. Can you imagine? I think people would really like that.

Jeff: Well, I have to imagine. I mean, I know how many mistakes I cut out of our podcast episodes, just whether we’re reading a script or whether we’re having a conversation and it stumbles. I mean, it’s huge. And I can only imagine when you’re starting to look at six, eight, plus hours of audio book.

Nick: There’s a lot. A lot of mistakes in there for sure.

Jeff: Even when the words are in front of you, it’s impossible to say them right all the time.

Nick: Oh my God. Yeah. I mean, I’ll look at a sentence. It looks easy enough, but then I go to say it and just boom. Okay. Retake it.

Jeff: What’s it like to have the fandom? Cause we’ve certainly seen over the past few years, basically the time that you’ve been in the genre, even where the audio book narrators can have as much fandom as the authors and where somebody narrating a book is why people will buy it. Did you envision that at all when you started?

Nick: Definitely not. Definitely not. Like I said, when I first started, it was like, Oh, this will just be fun for me. I’m going to read this book and this is just for me, I’m just gonna do my best.

And I hope people like it certainly, but I, I’m going to just have fun being in this booth and record this audio and just see what happens and just to see the response that that it’s gotten since then. My first time at GRL there, walking to the panel, And there was a line going around the hall for that before they opened the doors.

And that’s one of the first exposures I had to face-to-face with fans. And as I’m walking up there, just like it’s Nick J. Russo and I’m like, this is… I’ve never experienced this in my life. It was signing autographs. I’ve never done that before. That was, that was it. It’s thrilling and flattering, but shocking, nonetheless.

Jeff: Will we see you this year if we’re lucky enough to have a GRL?

Nick: That’s the plan, as long as it happens, I will be there.

Jeff: Excellent. What can you tell us about releases you’ve got coming up?

Nick: Definitely always something to the pipeline. As far as what I’m working on right now, I’m wrapping up “Elf Defense.” But what should be out any day now, “Confused Hearts,” the sequel to “Clashing Hearts” by Nicky James. That’s the Jasper Alberta one that should be out any day now. I’m also working on Susie Hawk series. It’s the sequel to “Reluctant Alpha,” the Mary Rundle “Blackwood Pack” series, a novella by Anyta Sunday and Andy Gallo, it takes place with the “Harrison Campus” series. Oh my God. They’re so great. I love those college stories. Fantastic. And then also an additional story by Anyta Sunday as well. So a lot in the pipeline for sure.

Jeff: And no doubt many more to come this year.

Nick: Oh yeah, for sure. For sure. Looking forward to it.

Jeff: What is the best way to focus and keep up with you online to see what things are releasing, what you’re working on and keeping up on all things Nick?

Nick: All the social media platforms, I think I’m on at this point, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram you can find me at NickJRussoVoice that’s I think it’s my handle across the board. But you can also check out my Facebook group Nick’s Naughty Nook.

Jeff: What a great name. Good alliteration.

Nick: We have a lot of fun in there. Silly memes, gift dance parties, but we also do author interviews, code giveaways, and I do a weekly live read. Definitely a good place to stay in touch.

Jeff: Fantastic. Well, we’ll link to all that stuff in our show notes so that people can find it. We’ll link up to all the stories we talked about. Nick, thanks so much for coming and talking to us and give us a little more insight into your narration.

Nick: Thank you so much for having me. This was fantastic.