Hey, Rich! First things first: congrats on joining Vixen Labs full time! But you’re not new to the team – tell us about the past few months. What have been your highlights?
Thank you! I am thrilled to be joining the team full time; this is such a great place to work.
For the last six months, I’ve been working as a Producer on some brilliant projects with some really amazing brands. Not only that, but I’ve been managing internal projects, too, like the Vixen Labs podcast, Talking Shop, and getting us to a point where we can be ISO 27001 certified.
From a professional point of view, being able to educate the team about SSML (Speech Synthesis Markup Language — a subject I am weirdly passionate about), and do it with my own ‘humorous’ twang was something that I really enjoyed. Who wouldn’t love getting Alexa to sing Africa by Toto in a training session?!
On a social note, the Vixen Labs field trip was a fantastic opportunity to meet the team (who at that point I had only met about 5% in real life). I even made it to the final of our laser clay pigeon shooting competition.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES A CREATIVE STRATEGIST DO THEN?
It’s great you’re becoming an even more integral part of Vixen Labs! What will your new role look like, day-to-day?
I’ll be working closely with Claire (Creative Lead) to bring my years of voice expertise to the table. I’ll help make sure that the standard of voice applications Vixen Labs releases is best in class and industry-leading, going above and beyond what we have created before.
“I’LL HELP MAKE SURE THAT THE STANDARD OF VOICE APPLICATIONS VIXEN LABS RELEASES IS BEST IN CLASS.”
I’ll also be continuing my work to share knowledge with the team, making sure that everyone is up to date on the latest advancements, and being a bridge between technical and creative when it comes to the capabilities of the platforms.
Finally, I’ll be working closely with client services and other strategy colleagues to talk to clients about what is best for them in this ever-evolving industry.
That sounds so exciting! How about before Vixen — you’ve been in the voice-first sphere for a while, right?
I’ve been working with voice tech since 2017. I started after seeing the potential for voice to really help in care homes — especially with people who have degenerative brain disorders such as dementia — not just as a tool to keep their minds active, but also as a tool to help monitor symptoms. So together with another passionate voice individual, I formed Veni Loqui.
From that, I created several voice games to test theories including how to drip-feed instructions and how to get people to remember to come back each day. Some of the games included our most popular game Daily Dilemma!
After a year on the voice circuit, I realised that there was a need to create something to help educate people. The tech was incredibly fast-moving and becoming difficult to keep up with — so I started the Cambridge Alexa Developers Meetup, helping to educate people in the Cambridge area about voice tech (not just from Alexa, but the wider voice world too). This led to opportunities to speak at charity events and with larger charitable organisations.
In 2019, after realising that there was no one really reviewing voice skills like there were for Apple and Android apps, I started EchoDad. EchoDad is a YouTube channel where I review Alexa skills with my kids and talk a little about the voice tech world to a wider audience. After the pandemic hit, the work on EchoDad led to advising parents and teachers across the world on how best to use their devices with the onset of homeschooling. It also led me to join the OVON Education Steering team to help set standards on how voice technology should be used for educational purposes.
RICH MERRETT OUTSIDE OF HIS VIXEN LABS ROLE
Nice! I had no idea you’d worked on all those things!
It sounds like your projects in voice started out as an interest and kinda became your career. Now that we’ve got you on board full-time, what do you enjoy doing outside of work?
When I’m not working with voice tech, I am working to raise awareness about human rights defenders in Colombia and have had several trips out there in the last couple of years to look into different ways of raising awareness — especially with art. I believe that in our time-poor society, we can learn so much more from an evocative piece of art than we ever will from a 42-page dossier from a governmental organisation.
When I need to turn my attention to something a little more light-hearted, I’m writing a children’s book. I have a pretty sizable Lego collection, and can lose myself for hours building set! I also love the outdoors: put me near a body of water and I’ll relax there for hours, either on the shore or in a kayak.
Something I personally admire about you is how cool-headed you stay, even when the pressure’s on. You also bring humour and creativity to any project! Can you tell us more about those kinds of skills?
Part of it is about feeling comfortable enough in the team to be able to express yourself fully. I’ve always enjoyed using humour as an educational tool and thinking outside of the box when it comes to learning style. I think humour helps to bring a subject matter to life, and in a world where we are all too often subjected to ‘death by powerpoint’, bringing a prop – or putting a bit of extra effort in to write a short parody song – to help make a topic more engaging means that people will remember what you are actually talking about, especially when it comes to complex topics. People can learn in so many different ways and there is no reason that we shouldn’t take a risk, especially around our colleagues who are there, at the end of the day, to support us.
“I THINK HUMOUR HELPS TO BRING A SUBJECT MATTER TO LIFE.”
As for staying cool-headed, I think it is about two things: perspective and logic. Even in high-pressure situations, it’s worth taking a deep breath and a step back to assess the situation and look at the grand scheme of things. What we can think is a fire at this moment, is usually actually more of an ember. If it is something bigger, then (at the risk of sounding like a popular Star Trek character) we use logic to deal with that and find the solution. Engaging others in the discussion also helps and, again, humour can be used to try and diffuse any situation and help make people feel more relaxed.
My kids also help me keep a level head. They have a way of reminding me what’s important, which means I can stay relatively calm and collected no matter how stressful a situation gets.
I really like that: recognising what is a fire, and what is an ember, and acting accordingly. To round us off, we have three quick-fire questions!
Next travel destination?
Budapest, then hopefully somewhere warm!
New music you’re most looking forward to?
The never-ending pipe dream that Oasis will reunite and release a new album…failing that, Ladbaby’s new take on sausage rolls to make another Christmas number one (the songs are not the best, I agree, but it’s for a good cause so I’ll support it).
Who in the voice industry would you swap places with for a day – and why?
Dr Teri Fisher – he’s created some amazing material and interviewed some amazing people.
Awesome! Thanks for joining me for this interview Rich. Where can people find you if they’d like to connect?
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