Serge De Marre: The Flemish Phenomenon

Serge De Marre

It happens at least once a month.

An English speaking client comes to me for a Dutch voice over. She sends the script over, and I immediately know it’s not for me. Why?

The text is not written in Dutch (spoken in the Netherlands), but in Flemish, the dialect of Flanders, a region in neighboring Belgium. It’s like sending a script for the Brazilian market to a Portuguese talent, or something in Castilian Spanish to a Mexican voice over. Linguistically it’s close, but it’s still a mismatch.

Just like Danes and Swedes understand one another, the Dutch and Flemish can converse without problems. However, there’s a very clear regional difference in accent and vocabulary that sets the speakers apart. So, if you’re an agent looking for a Dutch speaker, always ask the client whether it’s for the Dutch or the Flemish market.

To complicate matters, some Flemish voice overs will advertise themselves as Dutch speakers, and that’s because Flemish isn’t an official language. It’s a variant of Dutch. 

If you’re interested in what Flemish sounds like, you should come to VO Atlanta (March 26 -29), and strike up a conversation with voice talent Serge De Marre. It’s his first VO Atlanta, so make him feel at home! A few days ago, I had a chance to catch up with him. 

Serge, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over? 


About 20 years ago I accidentally reconnected with an old school friend. He worked at a local radiostation in a small town in Belgium. I just got out of a relationship and to cheer me up, he dragged me to the station so “I could keep him company” during his radio show. I enjoyed the whole behind-the-scenes experience, and after he finished his show, he put me behind the microphone and we recorded a short demo. 

A couple of weeks later I got a call from the station manager: “Hey Serge, I listened to your demo and I really like it. One of our hosts is leaving, are you interested in his weekly slot?” It didn’t pay very well, but I was so excited!

In the years after, I worked my way up and got a show on Belgium’s biggest commercial radiostation Qmusic. Meanwhile, I was also doing voice overs on the side. In 2010 my husband’s employer wanted to relocate us to Washington, DC, and we decided to say yes to the adventure. Initially, his assignment was supposed to last for only two years, but 10 years later we are still in the USA. 

Job wise, this transition was tough for me. In normal circumstances I would’ve gotten a visa that’s linked to my spouse’s. But because our same-sex marriage was not recognized at the time I couldn’t get a visa nor a work permit in the USA. I did find a workaround and was able to get a journalist visa so I could work as an on air reporter for a Belgian tv channel. Here I am, reporting on a tornado.

Thanks to a Supreme Court decision in 2013, same-sex marriage was finally recognized in the USA and I was able to apply for a work permit and a green card. I started investing in my voice over business: bought a booth, polished my English with a dialect coach, and contacted Nancy Wolfson for private VO coaching sessions. I even expanded my business, and now I am also voicing in Neutral English.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love, love, love that I’m able to create something magical out of the words written on a piece of paper. 

I love when clients are really excited about me bringing those scripts to life.

I love that I’m my own boss. 

I love that every day is 100% different. No gig is the same.

I love brainstorming with the many interesting and enthusiastic people in this business.

I love that after 20 years of being in the voice business, I’m still learning every day. Not only about the business itself but also about the companies, brands, and products that are out there. The other day a client contacted me to voice a corporate video for a drone that kills insects in green houses. How fascinating is that?!

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

Me. I have changed. I used to think that it was impossible to make a decent living with voice overs. For a long time, I saw the voice over business as a side business, but there is so much work out there. One day it just hit me. I decided to go for it full time and just do what I like and what I am good at. 

You know… everything changes once you start focussing on your goal. I learned that many years ago when I was working at a local radiostation, and I had this dream about having my own show on a national station. I just worked towards that goal and it happened. But I had this blind spot about voice over for a long time. I just didn’t think it was possible to make a living as a fulltime Flemish voice. You just have to persevere. Eventually, you’ll find your way.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

Here’s the thing. My voice is what it is. You either like it or you don’t. The same goes for so many other voices, so there’s not much unique there. The difference with those other voices is that I offer an amazingly smooth experience. I am very flexible. I have a quick turnover. I am trustworthy and honest. I wanna make my clients happy, I go all out. 

Sometimes things are out of your control. Luckily, it hasn’t happened very often, but I will get really upset when my clients aren’t happy for whatever reason.

This one time a studio booked me after hearing my audition. We recorded several tv commercials during a 3 hour live directed session. The client and studio were beyond ecstatic with my work. A couple of days later they told me they’d decided to go with a different voice because corporate headquarters thought I sounded “too different from to the original French voice” that they never let me hear. This was a complete surprise to me. They were very apologetic though. This wasn’t something I could fix but I still was upset for a couple of days. (laughs)

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

Working with clients who only know what they don’t want, and don’t know what they do want is a challenge I love to accept. Or clients that give you contradicting instructions: “Give me a dynamic, happy but serious read.” My years of experience will handle these situations perfectly by just asking a lot of questions and narrowing down the things they don’t want. These situations are always a challenge but eventually we’ll get there.

What would be your dream VO job?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just sit in your booth all day and do nothing but voice work? In my dreams I’d have a sales manager. Someone who’d pick up the phone and replies to my emails. A marketing guy who’d update my website and social media. Someone who negotiates fees for me and sends invoices. You have to have goals! One day… who knows. (laughs)

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m proud to be working again for Qmusic, the Belgian radiostation I left in 2010. I’m now their station voice. Those recording sessions are always a lot of fun.

I’m also very proud of getting into the International English voice over market. Who would’ve thought, 10 years ago! 

You know… I’m actually very proud of everything I’m doing today. In elementary school as well as in high school, I was a below average student. Teachers used to tell me that I was a lost cause, and just not smart enough. “You’re just too dumb and I don’t know what is going to become of you” is a sentence I heard many times, and I believed it!

Look where I am now! I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

Ha! Professionally? I’ve interviewed and met many celebrities. Actors Jim Carrey and Angela Lansbury, Ellie Goulding, James Blunt, Birdy, Jim Kerr, Taio Cruz, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins… to name a few. This was for Qmusic radio and a tv station. It shows how much my producers and bosses trusted me with my expertise and talent.

On a personal level.. When I moved to the USA and didn’t have a work permit, I volunteered at the Houston SPCA and fostered over 40 puppies. No, not all at once! (laughs) This was over a period of 4 years. That was so much fun! I also photographed a lot of the shelter dogs, so we could put up their picture on the SPCA’s website and get them off the adoption floor quicker. 

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

Learn, learn, learn. I’m looking forward to meet with other people in the business and hear their experiences. There’s so much I can learn from not only the X-sessions, but also from other voices.

And maybe I might get a new client out of it? Who knows?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

Through March 10th you get 25% off select sessions by using the coupon code MARCHMADNESS25.

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta

2 Responses to Serge De Marre: The Flemish Phenomenon

  1. Paul Payton

    Serge seems like quite the interesting guy, but I confess to hearing a touch of accent in his “neutral English” read, although his emphases were perfect. Nothing wrong with that, of course; he kept me listening!

    Sorry I haven’t been keeping up more, but I look forward to seeing you in the spring for that bike ride we talked about!

    Stay happy and healthy,
    Paul

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I always say that no one is neutral. Using a neutral voice would be like cooking without spices. The end result is bland.

    It looks like spring is starting early. Better get the bikes ready!

    [Reply]

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