Thomas is a Sydney-based actor and creative, known for his versatile voice and off-beat brand of nerdery.
He has trained with Howard Fine, in the NIDA Advanced Actors Ensemble, and is a graduate of International Screen Academy, and recently earned rave reviews in earned in ‘The Dog, The Night and the Knife’ dir. Eugene Lynch. His credits include An Index of Metals for Sydney Chamber Orchestra (dir. Kip Williams), The Dog, The Night and the Knife and Richard II for The Other Theatre Company, Herons (dir. Anthony Skuse), Eight (dir. Janine Watson), and Orestes (dir. Kevin Jackson).
You can hear his voice in the upcoming video game Repella Fella, in podcasts Pulp Fury Radio and The Simpson’s Index, on screen in The Great Emu War & The War at Home and on the air voicing promotions for companies from Ribs & Burgers to F45.
Listen to the full epidotes in our Podcast:
Mike Aiton: Hello and welcome to Source Elements on the mic with Mike Aiton and today my special guest is Thomas G. Burt known as Tom to his friends I believe.
Tom Burt: Honestly Tom to the world, just when you’re Googling me go for Thomas G Burt, it will get you to the right place.
Mike Aiton: Fantastic. So we’re going to start off with our traditional warm-up quick-fire round, which is called, just for fun. And okay, we’re going to start so you got three seconds to answer each question and maybe five at most, and if you want to have two answers to any question, feel totally free. And say pass if you’re not sure. Okay, let’s start off favorite biscuit or cookie?
Tom Burt: Oh absolutely just any kind of really super dense homemade shortbread.
Mike Aiton: Okay, favorite book?
Tom Burt: Probably, ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara
Mike Aiton: That’s not one of my favorites but I seem to be collecting interesting books to read now.
Tom Burt: Oh it’s fantastic.
Mike Aiton: Are you Mac or PC?
Tom Burt: Firm PC.
Mike Aiton: Okay, starter or pudding if you go out to eat?
Tom Burt: Oh starter usually.
Mike Aiton: Okay, analog or digital for recording?
Tom Burt: Digital.
Mike Aiton: And if you’re listening, do you prefer vinyl or CD?
Tom Burt: Vinyl? Honestly, that’s at a store.
Mike Aiton: Okay. Do you have a favorite music recording at all? Anything you sit and listen to and go wow?
Tom Burt: Probably Daft Punk’s Live World Tour.
Mike Aiton: Okay. Do you play a musical instrument?
Tom Burt: I do. I very, very vaguely dabble in guitar, but I’ve been a drummer for yonks.
Mike Aiton: Okay, a tub-thumper. So I don’t know whether I should ask if you’d rather have a tele or a strat for desert island guitar?
Tom Burt: I’d happily give both of them to my dad because he’s the really talented guitarist, I’m just a schmo who can play a couple of chords.
Mike Aiton: Okay. What’s the most recent music that you’ve purchased?
Tom Burt: Oh, that I’ve purchased? In the Spotify era, it’s kind of difficult but I recently got some- both of Dorian electrodes albums autographed and on CD and it was- they’re just fantastic.
Mike Aiton: Okay, so what’s the most recent software that you’ve purchased?
Tom Burt: It was the MV 2 Mono Compressor by Waves. It’s, nice, it’s very simple.
Mike Aiton: Okay, simple is good. And who’s the most famous person that you’ve met?
Tom Burt: So I had a sort of funny story about this one, mostly just because we went happened to see each other in each other’s theater shows but, ah, I’ve seen Geoffrey Rush naked and Geoffrey Rush has seen me naked. It’s less of a fun fact these days if you follow the news, but aside from that, probably Nicole Kidman
Mike Aiton: Impressed, wow, A list.
Tom Burt: She came in with her kids, a theater show I was in when I was back in my mid-teens.
Mike Aiton: Yeah, wow, what fun. And was she charming?
Tom Burt: Oh, yeah. Very, very, very secretive because she didn’t actually want to be mobbed by teenagers but quite pleasant.
Mike Aiton: I can imagine. Okay. mountains or beaches for holiday?
Tom Burt: Mountains. Motorcycling up and down the mountain specifically.
Mike Aiton: Okay, preferred headphones?
Tom Burt: I really love my BT 770s they’re the ones I’ve got in my head at the moment, they’re just soft, soft, and nice.
Mike Aiton: A Bayer man.
Tom Burt: Yes.
Mike Aiton: The warm the warm fuzziness of Bayer?
Tom Burt: Yes.
Mike Aiton: It’s sort of the valve headphone if you will in style.
Tom Burt: Yes.
Mike Aiton: So what’s your preferred weekend? A city break or a country weekend?
Tom Burt: I would very much like to go out to the country at the moment because I haven’t been allowed to for quite a while. But at the moment a city weekend would be very, very nice just at a minimum.
Mike Aiton: Okay. Do you have a most hated colloquial phrase?
Tom Burt: She’ll be right mate.
Mike Aiton: She’ll be right.
Tom Burt: Because so often she will not be. It’s like the Australian we’ll fix it in posts but just for everything, for everything in life.
Mike Aiton: Yeah, yes. It’s like it’ll turn out okay after a wash, yeah. My most hated colloquial phrases people who say, they pluralize anyway to anyways, I hate it. That and the word ‘like’ ought to be banned. And then anyone who says the past tense of diving is dove. Ah, you get hit by the grammatical kipper. What’s the last film that you watched?
Tom Burt: I’ve been watching an awful lot of sex education on Netflix. But the last film I watched, goodness gracious, it’s just been so many that they’re all sort of blurring together. I think it actually might have been one of the original hero movies.
Mike Aiton: Okay.
Tom Burt: He Man movies rather
Mike Aiton: Interesting choice. What famous person alive or dead would you most enjoy a night out with? This is a toughy, I’m going to hurry you along.
Tom Burt: Okay. Yep, there are only five seconds, okay. I would absolutely love to go for a night out with Jacinda Ardern.
Mike Aiton: Is that the New Zealand Prime Minister?
Tom Burt: Yeah, she seems fun.
Mike Aiton: Yeah, okay. And who would you most have liked to or like to record or work with?
Tom Burt: Honestly just being around Frank Welker at pretty much any point. Yeah, I’d pay an awful lot of money to see the dude scream into a bucket.
Mike Aiton: Okay, so let’s now talk about you personally. Whereabouts are you based?
Tom Burt: I’m based in Sydney, Australia. I always have been and for the next little while, it looks like I will be staying right here.
Mike Aiton: Okay. And how do people get hold of you?
Tom Burt: I’ve got the website, @thomasgburt.com. That’s sort of my main port of call but all over the socials all under the same tag. There’s not really anything that I’m not on aside from Tumblr,
Mike Aiton: Tumblr. Oh, no, no, that’s not the one where you flick left or right, is it? That’s not that one?
Tom Burt: That one’s Tinder.
Mike Aiton: Oh, Tinder sorry.
Tom Burt: Tumblr is the fashion blogging and things.
Mike Aiton: Okay, I show my age here, get them all confused. Sorry. I’m 55 year and an old fart.
Tom Burt: Oh, I’m not on Pinterest, either.
Mike Aiton: So are you employed? Or are you freelance?
Tom Burt: I’m freelance in Australia, but some in the US I’ve got some agents I’ve sort of collected. And in New Zealand, I’m repped but I like to sort of keep Aussie people close to the chest.
Mike Aiton: Okay. And do you have your own studio?
Tom Burt: Yes. It’s a home studio.
Mike Aiton: We’ll get to those details later on in a different section. Okay, so how would you describe your job to those who know the industry well?
Tom Burt: To those who know the industry well? Okay, most of what I do on a day-to-day basis is explainers, particularly for the banking and tech industries. Those are sort of my primary things because I’ve got that sort of young adult, chipper, a little bit deep, not too deep, approachable kind of tone that people love to use to showcase their products. And aside from that, I’m just picking up on the character world and trying to do as many video games and bits of animation and things that I possibly can while still being in Australia.
Mike Aiton: How would you describe your job to someone who doesn’t know your industry particularly well?
Tom Burt: I sit in a really big box that looks sort of like a fridge, and I talk to people, and sometimes those people are you.
Mike Aiton: Good answer. I like that, sometimes it’s you. Who me? Yeah,
Tom Burt: Yeah, you.
Mike Aiton: Let’s talk about your background now. So how did you start in the industry?
Tom Burt: I was a really, really, really shy teenager. So naturally, I was all over my High School’s AV Club, the sound and lighting technicians, and things. I started there, and I was doing live sound and that sort of thing. And then this was all while still in high school. And one of the older boys that was in the club said, “Hey, there’s a job going at a children’s theater. I love these people, they’re great to work with, do you want to take over my position?” And I went, “Yeah, sure, sounds awesome.” And then, after a while of doing that, I looked at the people down on stage, and I went, “Damn, they look like they’re having a lot of fun.” So I started taking some acting classes and doing all of that. And then I played Ebenezer, the evil wizard in a sort of version of Aladdin’s Tales and that was Marian Street Theatre for Young People, just gorgeous, gorgeous company. And yeah, it sort of went on from there. I did the whole acting school thing, did a bit of screen, did a bit of theater, did a few TV commercials here and there. And then during drama school, I had this incredible mentor Felicity Giard, who really, really encouraged me to get into the voice acting side of the business a bit more. I’d always been interested but I never realized that, hey
Mike Aiton: Was she a voice actor herself.
Tom Burt: Yeah, she’s a phenomenal voice actor and just an incredible teacher. And she got me on a job narrating a documentary, a student documentary, but very, very, very cool, first gig, and then it just kind of steamrolled from that. So I had a bit of the audio engineering experience from high school days. And I got so many things very, very wrong early on, but it’s been three, four years now and I am absolutely my happiest when I’m behind a mic.
Mike Aiton: That’s a very honest answer for you to say that you got so many things wrong because I think some people are very frightened to admit, failure, or even indeed, are frightened to start because they’re frightened of failure. And I love that cliché that says, if you’re frightened of failure, you’ll never succeed.
Tom Burt: Yeah, exactly. I’m a firm launch it at 80% and then figure out the other details along the way.
Mike Aiton: Yes, it seems that you’ve had kind of a mixture of- what I would call a very healthy mixture of some formal training in that you’ve done quite a lot of acting classes and worked within a theatre company. But you’ve also had a mentor to guide you along on your journey. But you’ve also learned via the school of hard knocks and experience too. So you’ve kind of encompassed a lot of the training aspects, which is, you’ve sort of looked at it academically, you’ve also sort of had mentorship. Have you used the internet at all, for any of your sort of training or you’re thinking or your education in the process?
Tom Burt: It’s really just been a thing that’s boomed for me over the last few years. Because, yeah, we went into lockdown, the world went into lockdown, and then all of the studios and things, opened up their doors and said, “Hey, everyone in the world, do you want to come teach? Do you want to come learn from some of the best tutors and the best voice actors and the best engineers in the world? Okay, here’s a link, come along and we’ll, we’ll show you the ropes.” And the folks that I’ve managed to work with are people that voiced all of my Saturday morning cartoons and it just blows my mind the fact that I can work with these people from a big box in my living room in Sydney.
Mike Aiton: Yes, it’s quite something, isn’t it? And you also put something back into the industry as well, don’t you? That you sort of also run classes, I think as well?
Tom Burt: Yeah. So I tutor for a company in Sydney, a studio that runs classes, and I also facilitate their video game voiceover course. Because in that sort of realm of things, I’ve got a few under my belt, but I’m not super comfortable calling myself a teacher, but I know, the good teachers. So I say, “Hey, do you want to come in and teach this class for a bit?” And I’ll go through some vocal warm-ups and things beforehand because I know that kind of stuff. Yeah, it’s been a really fantastic thing. We’ve done three of them now and it’s really, really touching, hearing some of the student feedback and stuff. It’s still a very new thing, I wouldn’t call myself a teacher by any means. But I just enjoy helping people because, again, I made so many mistakes. Yeah, if I can sort of guide people away from a couple of the potholes, then I would be very happy to
Mike Aiton: It’s quite interesting because that is a question I always like to ask is, what advice would you have for the next generation who may be starting out?
Tom Burt: I would say, when it comes to gear, spend according to your level of commitment. So if you’re absolutely convinced that you’re in this for the long haul, don’t do what I did, and burn through six different microphones before finding your forever mic, because you’re going to lose a lot of money in the resale. And keep careful, careful, careful notes. And, again, if someone is willing to pay you for your voice, you’re being a professional voice actor, make sure you’re being paid professionally.
Mike Aiton: Yes. I think if you use professional tools and make sure you get paid professionally, they’re two ends of the equation, aren’t they? And sometimes everything drops to the mid-range where people tend to either want to try and do everything with just an egg box in their room thinking that’s acoustics dealt with. And my iPhones are good enough microphone. And then at the other spectrum, people want to pay five P for an hour of your time, which is not acceptable either. You have to put yourself in the arena of a professional workplace and delivering a professional job. But people have to respect that and also pay a professional rate, I think.
Tom Burt: Yeah, exactly.
Mike Aiton: Okay, so are you actually doing what you thought that you wanted to do?
Tom Burt: Yes, and no, I get paid to tell stories, that’s an amazing thing. I also spent a couple of hours talking about mold yesterday for a building e-learning video. And honestly, there was a lot in it that I found absolutely fascinating. Did I think that’s what the job would be? No, not at all. But I get to learn this stuff every once in a while an awesome video game comes along, and I get to do all kinds of crazy and intense and really well crafted and beautiful stories. But even though the workhorses, the things that aren’t necessarily unicorns, it’s still storytelling, and the fact that again, I’m getting to do the acting thing as my career is just brilliant.
Mike Aiton: Yeah, even mold has a plot, yeah.
Tom Burt: Yeah.
Mike Aiton: Okay, what would you like to do more of and indeed, less of in your career?
Tom Burt: I would absolutely love to do more original animation. So things that are pre-lay, it’s a collaborative process with creating the character together, it’s animated according to my voice and the things I’m bringing to the table. What I’d like to do less of is fighting with clients about quotes.
Mike Aiton: Yeah. The agent side of it. How do you take direction or indeed critique? And do you have any advice?
Tom Burt: I was actually just talking to one of the directors at (?Psys) the other day because we had one of their fantastic directors in for the final segment of the course. And he was saying that the aim of Central School of Drama and Speech and Drama in the UK is to make people director proof.
Mike Aiton: Yeah.
Tom Burt: And I think a lot of the acting, training, and things that I’ve done, have pushed me in that direction so everything goes through a bit of a filter. Because if someone’s saying, “Oh, I just want this to be happier and more energetic, but they’re still going for the conversational read, and they wanted to sound like a real person, and they don’t want it to sound like something like this,” then you need to be able to sort of interpret that.
Mike Aiton: Yeah, that’s a bit like, “Can you read it faster but not sound like you’re reading it faster?”
Tom Burt: Yeah, exactly.
Mike Aiton: Yeah, that’s the classic one, yeah. My reply to that is best way to do that is take some words out.
Tom Burt: Please.
Mike Aiton: Let’s look at the script. Do you like it when sound engineers when you’re working in a studio pip in with suggestions?
Tom Burt: Honestly, yeah, they’ve probably heard a heck of a lot more of the things than I have, they’re working all the time. I come in for jobs on a, however many a week basis, or however many a month basis most of the time, I’m just working from home. But yeah, they hear more of these things than I do and then they sit and they edit the things. It’s almost certain that they have a better ear for it than I do at the time. I can contribute but I will happily take suggestions.
Mike Aiton: Do you prefer open or closed talkback between takes? So if you’re sitting in a booth in a studio, do you like it to automatically come on the second the transport stops? Or do you like to let the producer have a little conversation with the rest of his cohort in the room? Then give you the direction a minute later? And go, “Tom, can we have it a bit more quicker, but not sounding so fast please?”
Tom Burt: I prefer closed just because if they’re talking to me, I know that that’s when I need to be paying attention exactly. Otherwise, I can just give my brain a bit of a break. I don’t need to know what everyone’s ordering for lunch or doing after the session unless they happen to be doing something exciting.
Mike Aiton: In which case, earwigging is always fun. What sort of personal qualities do you think are best suited to your job?
Tom Burt: You’ve got to be nice. You’ve got to know how to talk to people, you can’t take everything personally so it’s a bit of the thick skin also just understanding that not every job is for you as well. So being a nice person who generally wants the best for people and their projects, because these things are people’s babies.
Mike Aiton: Okay.
Tom Burt: So yeah, generally just being nice, because that’s, it makes you so much easier to work with.
Mike Aiton: And you’re only as good as your last job.
Tom Burt: Yeah.
Mike Aiton: So what do you like or dislike about the way that you’ve learned in the educational process in the industry in general?
Tom Burt: I’ve had a very sort of ad hoc approach to voiceover training. It’s always been a- well it was a big segment of our course while I was racking up enormous amounts of student debt during my conservatory degree.
Mike Aiton: I love that phrase racking up debt yeah.
Tom Burt: Yeah.
Mike Aiton: Sorry, I interrupted you, but carry on.
Tom Burt: Thinking about it again. But yeah, I’ve always been sort of quite picky with how I choose coaches and things and I just keep going back and back and back to Felicity because she’s been a very constant mentor for absolutely years. But it’s more just word of mouth and okay, does this person have a group class? I’ll come in if it’s not too expensive, see what they’re like, and then try and work with them one on one, just because I think the focus time is more important. But mostly it’s just been, “Oh, this genre of VO looks really interesting. Who’s the best coach that I can find in that area? Alright, cool, I’ll work with them for a few sessions.”
Mike Aiton: Okay. How do you think learning in the industry has changed now? Has it changed for better or for worse?
Tom Burt: Absolutely for the better I think. There is a lot out there and again, you go to the Facebook groups and things and you ask a question, you get thrown an insane amount of responses, which may or may not be entirely misleading or wrong, or “Oh, yeah, just go try out Fiverr” or what have you.
Mike Aiton: Yes.
Tom Burt: So I think there’s a lot of sort of demo mills and things that have popped up as the industry as a whole has become more attractive and accessible. But also the accessibility has been a fantastic thing because you’re getting so much more authentic representation of people and the whole world is just right there at your fingertips, which has never been the case before.
Mike Aiton: Do you have any particular YouTube channels or Instagram accounts that you would recommend for learners or indeed for experienced people that you think are worth checking out?
Tom Burt: Mike Delgado is a favorite or Booth Junkie on YouTube. He’s just fantastic and essentially, an enormous amount of my kit was just, “Oh, okay this is what Mike’s using, I’m going to buy that, cool.”
Mike Aiton: Yeah, you’re not the first to say that and I don’t think you’re going to be the last, he’s very popular.
Tom Burt: He’s just fabulous.
Mike Aiton: Okay.
Tom Burt: There’s also Mark Scott, his entire VO preneur training has been absolutely invaluable and taught me a lot of the lessons albeit a little bit too late for a few of them but he’s just fantastic, I really highly recommend them. The voice acting club discord, which is run by Kira Buckland who’s an anime dubbing, legend, status person. And yeah, it’s just this huge community where you can come to find auditions, ask people about tech issues, and generally just have a yarn about voice acting. And it’s incredibly, incredibly inclusive and people of all kinds of skill levels are in there from people literally doing the phone in a closet situation to, “Oh, yeah, I voice all the promos and things for CNN.”
Mike Aiton: Yeah, it’s interesting that a lot of you and your colleagues in the industry, because a lot of you’re working remotely and I think perhaps because of the pandemic too, you’ve all tended to form quite a strong bond of community. And because you’re often picked for sound, as well as a talent that you particularly have, or a style that you’re particularly good at, it’s seen as fair game to have competition. So nobody’s competing against each other compared to the sound world where it’s much more difficult to sort of say why someone has mixed better than someone else’s, you know. And so because of that, there seems to be less threat from each other. So, therefore, you’ve got a better sense of community, which I think is really nice.
Yeah. I mean, there’s, there’s a reason why people call them voiceprints. It’s because everyone is wildly, wildly different. Like I’m a young adult, Australian male, but I don’t sound like many other people that are in my age range, or it’s all different, it’s like a fingerprint and there’s work out there for everyone. You just need to be-
Mike Aiton: Find it.
Tom Burt: Be good at it and persevere, yeah.
Mike Aiton: What nuggets? Did you learn early on in your career that have stayed with you?
Tom Burt: Keep immaculate records, because there was a solid six months there that I just wasn’t logging anything whatsoever. And I think I’ve got a couple of commercials out there from around that time period, very, very, very early on, that aren’t good by any means but I think are still playing, that I probably really should be getting paid for still. But I’m not because I can’t find the originals.
Mike Aiton: Yes, that’s very good advice. Because as well as being a talent, you’re running a business as well and you have to be careful?
Tom Burt: I was just thinking of something that’s really been popping up recently because I’m trying to get more on top of the engineering side of things as well. And goodness gracious, less is more. I listened back to some of my old stuff and it’s so crunchy. It’s like a pile of dry leaves in the form of a voiceover. And no, no-touch, touch your audio less, have a gorgeous space.
Mike Aiton: Yes, there is a sense of just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I think sound mixers are just as guilty of that, most people go, “What’s your ideal chain?” And my ideal chain is that as little as possible? There you go. Can I have software version one of as little as possible? What advice would you give your ambitious younger self?
Tom Burt: Don’t be afraid to talk to people because this whole industry, again, I’ve been raving on and on about it but it’s incredibly, incredibly inclusive. So the casting directors, the directors, the engineers, the artists, the game developers, almost everyone is happy to have a chat about what they do and about their work because everyone loves talking about themselves at least a little bit, or about their work or the things they’re passionate about. So don’t be afraid to just ask the question, yeah.
Mike Aiton: So let’s briefly talk through your personal setup. Now you said you’re a PC man?
Tom Burt: Uh-huh.
Mike Aiton: And do you use a laptop or a desktop?
Tom Burt: I use a Lenovo laptop that sits happily with very, very, very long cords very far away from the exterior of the booth.
Mike Aiton: Great. I love that. You’ll be surprised that people going, “WiFi it’s not very good inside my booth.” And I have to say to them, “Wi-Fi, you’re using Wi-Fi?”
Tom Burt: Hard wired.
Mike Aiton: That’s why God invented Ethernet.
Tom Burt: Yes.
Mike Aiton: Okay, what audio interface do you like to use?
Tom Burt: I used an Audient ID 14 for a good few years now. And I upgraded that a year and a half ago to the RME Babyface Pro FS and it’s just brilliant.
Mike Aiton: Is it chalk and cheese?
Tom Burt: Yeah, seriously, the pre-amps are just incredible. The amount of control that you get coming immediately out of it and the fact that I don’t run any outboard gear or anything anymore because it’s all just so clean and delicious, immediately out of the interface.
Mike Aiton: Okay and which did digital audio workstation he using
Tom Burt: Adobe Audition. During acting school, it was a sort of very mixed program because the idea was that we would be actors, yes, first and foremost but we’d also be able to create our own work. So we learned a lot in the way of video editing and cinematography, and lighting and sound and all that kind of stuff and I grew up on Adobe Premiere so the transition to Audition was just the easiest.
Mike Aiton: Okay. You said you’re a Bayer dynamic headphone user?
Tom Burt: Yes.
Mike Aiton: And what’s your preferred microphone of choice now? You said you found your desert island microphone?
Tom Burt: At the moment. I’m using a Neuman TLM 103 just because it’s such an industry standard and everyone knows how to work with it. It’s been a suggested mic for a whole bunch of the video game studios and things I’ve worked with. Honestly, my favorite is the Sennheiser NKH 416 which is my primary mic for doing commercials and e-learning and narration as well. Yeah, I think the TLM is the one I stick with.
Mike Aiton: Yeah, the 416 has a more sort of, I would say exaggerated sound to it?
Tom Burt: Yeah, just with the shape of the interference tube, just gives it that awesome punchy sound.
Mike Aiton: You have to have a very good acoustic to be able to use a 416 inside because they’re designed for use outside and they’re extremely- because the interference tube is extremely intolerant of bad acoustics. And then they sound terrible if they haven’t got your glass at the right angle. If you’ve got an awful voice booth and you use a 416 inside it can be so the wrong microphone.
Tom Burt: Thankfully, I’m obsessive.
Mike Aiton: Anyway, my next question is studio chairs is sitting the new smoking?
Tom Burt: Oh, probably. But the less that I say about smoking probably the better but yeah, I feel like I probably should get a sit-stand at some point. But it’s so many cables and I’ve been using this one chair that I’ve just reupholstered over and over since my mid-teens and it just knows the shape of my bum.
Mike Aiton: Comfort molded, yes, perfect.
Tom Burt: Yeah.
Mike Aiton: Okay, let’s now think about remote working and the pandemic. How’s the pandemic affected your work?
Tom Burt: I think in all honesty, it was the thing that let me make the transition so seamlessly from doing this part-time to full-time. I quit my job mid-last year, just because I was working in a call center and for wine sales, and I was entirely fed up with being yelled at by octogenarians in my sitting room. The fact that everything was so open and tentative for a little while there and everyone was alright with working with talent that weren’t necessarily agency represented or the most known in the industry, but had the solid home setups, it gave me an edge for sure because I’m primarily a home voice actor.
Mike Aiton: And what percentage of your work would you say is remote?
Tom Burt: 95.
Mike Aiton: How do you see working in post-pandemic times if there will ever be a post-pandemic time?
Tom Burt: For things like commercials and explainers and all that sort of stuff, I’m more than happy to just be sitting at home in my theoretical pajamas. I do like to get dressed for work just because it makes me feel like a human. I would honestly rather just be able to do all this from home because the idea of being able to support my partner while she’s having her career in the film industry and still working from home and doing the sort of stay-at-home trophy dad thing really appeals to me. And it’s an easy way of working- for anything video game or mocap or animation where you’re working with a huge ensemble cast, it’s brilliant to be able to be in the room and feel that buzz sort of like what you get in a theater rehearsal room.
Mike Aiton: The band? Yes, you want to see the band effectively?
Tom Burt: Yeah, yeah, exactly. But for things where it’s just a single voice, please let me record my booth. I’ve spent an enormous amount of money on it.
Mike Aiton: My next question would have been how do you find working remotely? But obviously, you’re- I mean, you’ve just advocated it very strongly.
Tom Burt: Yeah, I love it.
Mike Aiton: How do you think your clients find working remotely?
Tom Burt: I would largely say it’s a pretty brilliant thing because there aren’t many worlds in which you’d be able to book a voiceover studio, organize the talent, get an engineer in 15 minutes. But I’m here, I’m in the booth already, you can send the script over and I’ll have it done in 5/10 minutes, depending on how long it is, and all those sorts of things. And adding to that factor, it means I can work with people in every single timezone. So just today alone, I’ve worked with a studio in Texas doing some ADR work. And earlier this week, I was working with folks in Hungary. I would never have access to those sort of folks, especially on sort of the scale of these clients, if I had to go into studio because they simply either wouldn’t have the budget, or they wouldn’t even think of working remotely. But the fact that casting and everything like that is so open now, it’s just brilliant.
Mike Aiton: But that sounds like it’s brilliant for you. But do you think your clients are finding that flexibility as well? Do you think moving forwards as well that they will want to go, “Well, there’s no need for me to go into town and commute for an hour. I can actually put on my bays at home or whatever, and direct from my laptop quite successfully.”
Tom Burt: Yeah, I’d honestly say so because it skips so much of the organization law and the project management fluff out of the process. They can come to me, they can say, “Hey, here is the script.” And then I can voice the script. It takes so many steps out of the process, it means I’m available in so many different time zones and things and it just makes it easier.
Mike Aiton: So there’s an immediacy to the process, you’re much more directly connected to your client effectively?
Tom Burt: Yeah, exactly. I get to work one on one with these people, which is not something you would have gotten with the model that this industry was running on 15/20 years ago.
Mike Aiton: Okay. What Source Elements products do you use in your workflow?
Tom Burt: Source-Connect Standard is, a big one. Honestly, I found the core 4S has actually decreased slightly because so many people are picking up Source-Connect now. Like it’s just been brilliant, especially for group sessions and things this ADR thing- that I had this morning, we were effectively treating Source-Connect Now like the booth. So though we’re on a video call, and then people were rotating in and out of Source-Connect Now as sort of the recording area. And then we got to hear everyone’s work through the video call and getting all that piped back.
Mike Aiton: Okay.
Tom Burt: So yeah, those two are the main.
Mike Aiton: What advice would you pass on to someone who’s trying a remote workflow for the first time?
Tom Burt: I just went for the cheapest and the dirtiest of all the ISPs. And then for a Source-Connect Standard session, I had a couple of days warning for it. So I had to change ISPs in 24 hours or less, which was slightly terrifying. But I actually really, really haven’t looked back from that, because now it is crystal clear and I’ve got this incredible download speed. So make sure your internet connection is super, super stable, get the hard-wired Ethernet connection because it makes everyone’s life easier. Don’t shy away from offering and don’t shy away from the directed session ever, especially with new clients because as opposed to the sort of self-direction thing, it gives you face time with people and gives you a chance to have a chat and realize that everyone every step of the process is a human.
Mike Aiton: Yeah.
Tom Burt: So yeah, do the directed session jump on Source-Connect?
Mike Aiton: Yeah, they remembered that you’re a friendly person and easy to work with and that you give them the results they asked for easily.
Tom Burt: Hmm.
Mike Aiton: Are there any potential pitfalls to avoid?
Tom Burt: There’s one thing just in the background at the moment, make sure everyone else in your household knows that you’re doing the live-directed session. This booth is absolutely fantastic stops helicopters, make sure you clear it with your partner or your housemates or your upstairs neighbors, whatever it happens to be, you can just hear my partner working out a little bit in the background. Other than that, jump on a website like time buddy, and make sure you’ve got all the different time zones and things lined up. Make sure that you account for daylight savings and ask if they want a locally recorded copy. Because most of the time they won’t, but sometimes they will.
Mike Aiton: Yeah my golden rule is always record everything everywhere all the time. Why would you not?
Tom Burt: I suppose I should be doing that.
Mike Aiton: Yeah. disk space is not expensive these days. What’s your recipe for success? What would you say is your top ingredients?
Tom Burt: I’m going to steal this directly from Mark Scott. But I think it’s pretty much become my mantra through all of my life, and absolutely my career, do the thing, just do the thing. It might be hard to start an email list and it might be hard to start cold contacting studios and all those things. And it might be hard to message your casting director on Twitter and ask them to take a listen to your demos. But if you don’t do the thing, it’s not going to happen.
Mike Aiton: Yes. If you don’t ask you won’t get.
Tom Burt: Yeah, do the thing, make your best attempt. No one’s going to blacklist you for asking a question unless you’re just awful. Which is the other golden nugget, be nice. Be a nice person and do the thing, that’s it.
Mike Aiton: What would be the one thing you would most like our listeners to take away from this?
Tom Burt: I think it’s really just that if you have someone that you admire, that you’ve been following the work of for ages, but you’ve never taken the moment to either reach out and say, “Hey, I love your work thanks for putting it out there in the world”, or, “Hey, do you have any golden nuggets for me? What would your advice be?” You might as well just reach out and send the message because I know when I receive stuff like that, it absolutely makes my day. So ask the question, that’s it, really, yeah.
Mike Aiton: Yeah. I’ve always believed in A, ask questions don’t be frightened to put your hand up. But I’ve also been a big believer in complimenting people. When I’m watching TV, and I hear a good mix. And I think, “Oh, that was that was a cut above most things.” I’ve tended to hunt them down, write to them and go, “I liked what you did. I thought- I was really impressed with that.” And you’d be surprised how many people have written back to that, “Oh, thank you very much.” We ended up having a conversation about what it was that elevated it, and I end up learning off people. So my tip always is to be gracious to other people and to thank them for their work or to say well done, you know, give, give them a round of applause. And it’s genuinely heartfelt. Because there are very few Mozart’s in this world, I aspire to be a second-rate Solieri because Solieri is standing, yeah. How would you like to change the industry?
Tom Burt: Oh I would love it if it became 100 times less complicated to work with folks internationally. I know that there are a lot of studios in the US that sort of hesitate working with folks overseas, just because it can be complicated with tax codes and things like that. But honestly, I’ve got a stack of the W 8 forms right there. You submit that to the IRS, and you’ll be good to go. So I’ve been really, really, really pleased and happy to see a whole bunch of my Aussie remote colleagues start working with more folks internationally. And Amy Smith is the one who sort of really started me on the character journey at all. And this is a big passion point for her because she’s just brilliant. And I want to see her in more anime and more exciting video game projects because she’s just fantastic. One of the best eggs that I’ve ever seen around and yeah, if-
Mike Aiton: I love that phrase.
Tom Burt: She’s an excellent egg,
Mike Aiton: You’re a good egg. Yes, that’s so British to say that, that warms the cockles of my heart to hear that phrase.
Tom Burt: Oh thank you, Mike.
Mike Aiton: What would you most like is your audio epitaph?
Tom Burt: He made some really, really weird noises
Mike Aiton: That’s great. And the thing is that actually came to you effortlessly as well. Most people go, “What’s an epitaph?”
Tom Burt: Perks of having a librarian mother.
Mike Aiton: And let’s move on to current industry issues. Now often I asked female people did they have any issues being female in the industry? So in the interest of being gender-neutral, do you think the fact that you’re a man in the industry has any bearing or influence? Or is it indeed something you ever think about?
Tom Burt: I would, I would say so because especially within the commercial world and in the commercial world in Australia, we still have so many male VOs and it’s so incredibly dominated by male VOs. But in sort of the more niche genres video, video games and animation and things, I think, within the sort of creature sounds and monster sounds, areas, that’s something where we definitely have a real lack of female voices. Beginning to change in little bits and bobs. In all in Rogers as final space, the most recent season of which just came out on Netflix, we’ve got an absolutely brilliant female villain doing all of the two, super textured voice that sort of thing.
Mike Aiton: Right.
Tom Burt: And she’s just brilliant at it, yeah. I don’t run into a huge amount of discussions about it but I think that might be more my own ignorance than anything.
Mike Aiton: Okay, how do you feel about using an agent versus self generated work?
Tom Burt: I think an agent is important, and especially within Australia because we still have a very, very rigid agent structure. So the majority of my work is the work that they don’t touch. So it’s things like those audiobooks, which are sort of getting picked up a little bit more, and the video games in the explainers and all that sort of thing, and it’s good, it’s great. I do wish there were more options for working with folks a bit more flexibly because if I was to sign with an agent in Australia, that would mean signing over 100% of my domestic work with them, which would really just sort of nip in the bud a lot of the long term and ongoing relationships that I’ve built with my clients because we’d be adding another person to the mix. And as anyone who’s gone that direction-
Mike Aiton: So in a way, it’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it?
Tom Burt: Yeah, it’s-
Mike Aiton: Having an agent gives you a sense of security and you get good rates, and it eases the negotiation side of things, but it can close the relationship side at the same time.
Tom Burt: Yeah, and potentially sort of access to a higher echelon of work, if you want to call it that but I really enjoy working with people directly. So if I do end up starting to hunt agents, again, in Australia, I’d probably have to take a really measured approach with it. Because I know a few folks that have been with some of the top agents in Aus and recently had to drop them because of either conflicts with the relationships and things and in general, they were just sourcing more work themselves than the agents were bringing them. So there needs to be a bit of a reassessment of that within Australia, which is controversial, but it’s the truth as I see it.
Mike Aiton: You touched on rates, do you think they are currently raising or lowering?
Tom Burt: I think there is a huge chunk of the market that has been just completely undercut and taken over by the Fiverrs and the Messages On Hold, sort of marketplaces and things. I’m very, very, very stringent about making sure that people are and any of the students that I teach, I have really hammer this in, you are a business, you cost money to run, you have paid however much it was to be in this course. Please know your worth. In general, there is a bit of a fall but there’s also a lot more demand for audio content out there at the moment. So I think in the next few years, when the AI voices thing really starts to kick into overdrive, we’re going to see a big rebalancing and shift in the market. But I’m very, very hopeful in the people want that the human touch.
Mike Aiton: Interesting. Yeah, my gut feeling is that the AI market will affect the people who read the speaking clock or the people who read the maps, or that sort of type of work, which doesn’t require tons of personality. I’m sorry, I would never sit and listen to an AI-generated audiobook.
Tom Burt: Oh no.
Mike Aiton: I would never want to listen to a detailed technical explanation on a course generated by an AI, it would be terrible, terrible. It can’t leave that pause, the intonation there for emphasis because emphasis is often about gaps and timing rather than volume. People in the sound world used to worry about, “Oh, is auto-mixing and all that sort of thing going to take away our jobs?” No, I don’t think- it’ll take away the riffraff, the jobs that aren’t worth having, yes. But that’s not the echelon or the vein in which you should be tapping anyway.
Tom Burt: Yeah, exactly.
Mike Aiton: Everyone should aim higher than the race to the bottom.
Tom Burt: Once that’s all scooped out, it will be interesting to see because there are so many more voice actors in the market as well at the moment. So it will be interesting to see whether people are still flocking into the industry in quite such a level,
Mike Aiton: Because the good will survive, yeah.
Tom Burt: Yes.
Mike Aiton: The good will survive and will have carved a successful niche and the riffraff won’t, the chaff will get separated from the wheat. Oh, I sound like a Led Zeppelin song. Unions v non-unions, is that an issue in Australia at all?
Tom Burt: I’ve been a member of our entertainment union for 6/7 years now, almost since the very beginning of my career, I started as a teenager, so not quite that long. But I think that it’s incredibly important to have a body that represents you and fights for fair conditions. And if you’re having workplace disagreements, especially with domestic clients, it’s fantastic to have that support, especially when you’re a freelancer. And you don’t have an agent to sort of do the good cop, bad cop thing with clients like that.
Mike Aiton: Well, I think we’ve covered a lot of bases here today, Tom, thank you so much for your time. It’s been really fun talking to you and very interesting as well. I’ve learned a lot, thank you and I’ve really enjoyed it. So thank you very much for being our guest today.
Tom Burt: Brilliant, thank you, Mike. Thank you so much for having me on. It’s absolute pleasure.
Mike Aiton: Take care then.
Tom Burt: Take care too Mike.
Mike Aiton: Alright, cheers. Bye-bye.
Thomas G. Burt