Like a True Pro — He Makes it All Look So Easy

If you’re lucky, you have a colleague in your profession who sets the standard; one who acts as the vanguard of things untried, and who raises the bar for everyone else.

If you’re *really* lucky, this person does all that in such a way which inspires without alienating, who makes strides without gloating, and who is generous by unhesitatingly sharing what they know.

I have such a colleague in Paul Boucher.

Paul Boucher

Paul is an amazing voice talent, with a world-wide clientele and a seemingly non-stop schedule of projects for companies like NASA, Pratt & Whitney, Microsoft, Dell, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Disney Asia, among many others. Being a bilingual voice talent (acquiring French while growing up in Northern Ontario) makes him a double-threat and even more marketable. He is driven, motivated, and always seems to be several lengths ahead of the rest of us — and does all that without a hint of ego. In fact, I’ve frequently described him as one of nicest people in the business — a sentiment echoed by all who meet him.

Chance — and not a little bit of chutzpah — got him started in voiceover:

“In 1977, I was fired from my lifeguard position at 15 for insubordination”, recalls Paul, “and seeking fame and glory (and apparently desperately needing attention), I walked into the local radio station in Kapuskasing Ontario looking for a job as a DJ. Essentially the job requirements were being able to walk and talk at the same time, ’cause I got in.”

I think merely being able to say “Kapuskasing” nailed it.

Paul continues:

“Since then,  several important people and experiences helped to shape me as a voice performer. The first two jobs I had in radio – 4 years worth – we did everything on air, including assemble and read long 5 to 10 minute newscasts. I loved it! Also, we often had to write our own copy, and produce the commercials we aired on the radio station. It was a fantastic creative opportunity, and as you can imagine, some things worked, more didn’t, but every one was a learning experience.”

Not everyone would easily adapt to a job which involved so many skill sets — writing, producing, and speaking are very distinctly different disciplines. Undaunted, Paul dove in, as is his inclination when things get challenging or unfamiliar.

Paul further outlines his evolution as a voice artist:

” Norm Zanolli, (a producer in Grande Prairie, Alberta) was the first producer to ever show me how to work in a booth, surrender the mechanics and just “read” a spot in a separate voice booth. He was very patient, very kind, and very encouraging. We’ll zip ahead to Calgary and my other touchstone formative experience in voice:  working with Calgarian (now Toronto based) composer and producer, Amin Bhatia. Amin was restlessly creative, always looking for something a little “other”, a little “further”, a little “better”, and he stirred in me a desire to deliver a “performance” rather than a “read”. It was with Amin and the fabulous creative team at Lite 96 in Calgary of Janet Connerton and Chris Kennedy that I discovered what it was like to be in the moment, feel the words, and attain another plateau creatively. Importantly, like the newscasts from early in my radio career, I found I enjoyed the longer pieces, and so began a slowly evolving non-broadcast narration business.”

It must have been a solid and comprehensive training ground. Paul’s ease in front of the mic; his intelligence in assessing material; and his insistence of capturing and conveying the writer’s intention has made him a favorite among writers and producers.

But his curiosity and skills didn’t stop behind the mic.

“I was also a computer geek and not long after my introduction to Peter Temple, I was shopping my demo around studios in Calgary and came across a studio where they’d recorded a long instructional program teaching people how to use Outlook and the rest of the Microsoft Office 97 suite of applications. I heard the existing narration and suggested that they actually needed a professional to do this (arrogance can occasionally be perceived as chutzpah depending your perspective). I explained that I had the narration skill and the passion for the subject that they needed to make this come alive. “

( I assure the readers — arrogance would be the last word used to describe Paul.)

Paul continues: “The producer (also a pretty mean narrator herself, Edie Tusor) didn’t think that a broadcaster could sustain a read beyond 30 or 60 seconds, but I surprised her and that relationship led to some eLearning programs that were favourably reviewed in the magazine Technology Quarterly. I was in geek heaven with this stuff, and I started to look for this sort of work, and the work began to find me. I put up my first web site in May of 1997, and within weeks was working for clients all over North America. The first one was a Mexican Pharmaceutical company that was heading to Germany for a trade show. They wanted an ‘American’ sounding narrator on a kiosk presentation and so, I did it.”

Ahh, Mexican pharmaceuticals — where would I be today without them? But I digress.

I ran some questions past Paul, to get his position on what it’s like to be a freelance voice talent like myself; I also wanted to see if his experiences were similar to mine.

A: If you were to put a finger on the five aspects of your favorite clients, what would those be?

PB: They’re prepared. They’re professional and respectful of the time it takes to deliver a quality product. They have LOTS of work. (LOL)They trust me – which then encourages me to give them more reasons to trust me and so on, and so on, and so on. and they’re good, honest people with integrity. They help to reaffirm my view that most people are good, and that the glass is half full.

A: We’ve all had less than perfect experiences with clients. What would you say are the five warning signs that a client is going to be ‘trouble’?

PB: BIG FLAG: starting the relationship with a “favor”. It usually goes something like this: “So, we’ve got this client, and they have TONS of work, but they’d like to get this small project produced at no cost first to: insert your own lie here: get a  feel for your voice and how it sounds with our product, see if it works, try to sell the stakeholders…blah blah blah. If you don’t value your talent/product, and hold a client accountable for SOME SORT of compensation, even the 1st time, then the client won’t either. Fortunately, I’ve only had to learn and re-learn that lesson a couple of times.

NOT WANTING TO HEAR THE DETAILS OF THE PROCESS BEFOREHAND: including revision fee structures etc. They typically put in an oscar-winning wounded dog performance when you tell them there’ll be a revision charge.

WANTING A HANDSHAKE AGREEMENT when, in actual fact, something written would be a good idea.

MAKING EXCUSES BEFORE STARTING about money and budgets being tight and how they’ll pay you when the client pays them, “but they can be slow”. Me to them: I’m not your bank, and your inability to collect from your clients is simply not my problem. 

LOW BUDGET CLIENTS WITH EXPECTATIONS worthy of stage riders by rock bands. I stay away from them. 

A: What do you do better than your competition?

PB: Hmm. One of my biggest advantages has been technological. I’ve been able to leverage technology to help me be proactive and consistent with communication to build relationships with clients. Once I have those relationships, I’ll move heaven and earth to make sure they’re super-served. I’m under no illusion that I’m the “best” at anything. There’s always someone who’s at least “as good” as you are at anything. My hope is that by consistently helping clients to realize their projects in a way that exceeds their expectations, then I’ll continue to enjoy privileged relationships with them. Technology has helped me to always be slightly ahead of the curve helping clients that way. I’m able to respond faster, get product to them faster, at a higher quality than many of our peers. I offer several distinct advantages, from secure permanent digital archiving of studio sessions (you’d be amazed at how often clients need to re-use something from 4-10 years back), to secure shredding and recycling, enterprise level security on my network so client files aren’t at risk, and more. I’ve helped clients evolve their own best practices at work, and also welcomed their input into my business to make it even more able to serve them.

One other important factor in my success is my peers. I proactively seek to mentor and share as many good things as possible with my peers in Calgary. I have always maintained that it’s better to share information and mentor each other forward into more successes than it is to remain “siloed” and isolated and protective of turf. I’ve learned a ton from the people around me, and hopefully, by reciprocating when I can I’ve helped them too. As an example – and I’ve said this plenty of times in conversation away from your blog, many of us have looked upon you as the queen of marketing in our business in Calgary. Your inventiveness, consistency and professionalism have been hugely influential in our small community. You still set the bar in our market. 

A: Blush! Thanks. You and I have discussed how insular it can feel being a voice talent with your own studio. We do less mingling with other talent; meet fewer clients face to face, and can pretty much keep our head down and do our work in own little inner “sanctums”. What are the positives (and negatives) of working in such a solo trajectory? Speaking for myself: sometimes I occasionally miss the hum of people around me, but for the most part, I enjoy the solitude.

PB: You’ve hit on something very important there. I wouldn’t trade the autonomy and independence of working from home anymore, but I know I’m vulnerable to “hunkering down”, being a homebody and what not, and I think that process can lead to a sort of sameness to thinking that’s applied to the business and even relationships and conversations. I have an external business manager who is a huge influence. She brings her wealth of experience and outside input into my life every day. We can confidentially discuss almost anything to do with the business and life. I sought out a business coach for a few years for very similar reasons and can recommend that experience almost unconditionally. You may be king/queen of your castle, but it’s good to have someone challenge your thinking from time to time just to remind you that you don’t have all the answers. :-) This isolation is a seismic shift in how the industry works, especially away from the big 3 markets in both the US and Canada. L.A., New York, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver all have much more structured industries with casting directors, ad agencies and thriving segments of the industry that require talent to go to studios to audition and record paying gigs. In Calgary, if we’re working full time in our business, we typically have quite a bit of work from out of the market, and we develop decades long relationships with people we’re probably never going to meet. We typically have evolved our home studios to serve a couple of original clients and it’s grown in sophistication pretty organically from there as the business has grown. We’re pretty much able to work from anywhere with a broadband connection. Alone. Disconnected. It can all be pretty isolating, and even demoralizing if you’re the sort of person that thrives on social contact. I know that sensing the possible negative aspect you mentioned, I enthusiastically accepted an invitation to be part of a business breakfast club in town several years ago (Early Birds – oldest business breakfast club in Calgary). We meet face to face once weekly. The variety of business experience, perspectives and accumulated wisdom of some of these people honestly blows me away from week to week. That experience taught me to make a point of meeting up with people on a rotating basis a couple of times a month. I’m now very conscious of my lack of contact with the industry, and face time is important. Finally, I think (although I’ve found this harder to put into practice), that it’s important to “touch the industry” in as many ways as possible:  attend as many local industry functions as possible to let people know you exist. Show up for those things, flex your “schmooze” muscles and let people see you in/out of a strict work context. With all our skill at virtual contact, there is still no real substitute as powerful as “face time” with someone. Join associations, travel to get coaching, whatever works for you, but get out of the bubble. Secure and lovely as it is, it’s a bit of an illusion, and getting out there can do nothing but make your relationships richer, more interesting, and ultimately from a business standpoint, more productive.

As you can see: Mr. Boucher is self-effacing, without pretense, and simply matter-of-fact about his considerable  success. His velvet voice is something any voice talent would kill for; but in addition to that considerable gift, his business sense is acute, his groundedness is enviable, and his accessibility and openness in assisting others in the industry is something we should all study and emulate.

And like a true pro: he makes it all look so easy.

Visit him at www.paulboucher.com.

In two week’s time, I’ll explore another aspect of telephony which is slowly falling by the wayside: obscene phone calls. Call them another casualty of the internet!

Thanks for reading…

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

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