By Jenn Turner

June 15, 2023

5 minutes with Summer Anne Burton, creative director and mixtape magician

When I first discovered Summbot, Summer Anne Burton’s magical mixtape creator, I knew I had to reach out to her and find out the story behind it. I love mixtapes so much (RIP “burning” cds), and the one Summbot created for me hit me so hard: 10cc, Etta James, Yo La Tengo and Vince Staples??? It’s one of the most intriguing and joyful experiences I’ve had on the internet in a long time, which is one of the reasons Glitch exists – as an outlet for everyone to build experiences for others to delight in. Thankfully, Summer agreed to chat with me about her experience being online through the years, Glitch, and even everyone’s favorite topic: AI. Please enjoy our conversation, and definitely get a playlist from Summbot!

**Jenn: How did you hear about Glitch and why did you use it instead of other options out there? **

Summer: I’m a longtime internet explorer of sorts, who first made a personal website in the mid-90s, but I had long left behind coding in favor of working in social media and digital media. I was familiar with Anil Dash’s work and had followed Glitch’s mission with interest from afar for a longtime. At BuzzFeed, I worked with a talented young writer, Anjali, who had an interest in coding and later recommended her to Anil for a job at Glitch and was happy to see that come through (she’s now an engineer at Etsy). I had remained interested in coding but when I finally came back around, Glitch instantly rose to mind as the “easy place” to go.

Have you ever tried to code (or learn to code) before? What got in your way?

I coded HTML obsessively throughout the ‘90s and then let those skills totally deprecate as I became more obsessed with social platforms like Livejournal and Myspace. I wrote a bit about my autobiography-by-way-of-platforms for BuzzFeed back in 2014 for anyone else for whom this is a special interest, but suffice to say I have always been interested in tech but I gravitate more towards “soft skills,” potentially because of my total lack of technical education (I was unschooled after third grade). I’ve always been an autodidact, which works for coding, but I’m also sometimes someone who quits when it gets hard.

What do you dislike most about coding?

I’m pretty impatient. As an artist, writer, etc, I’ve always been someone who favored quick processes and mess/chaos. That’s why I’m a better cook than I am a baker. That hasn’t always felt like it worked well with code. I have a ton of ideas. I always wished I had a best friend who was a technical whiz and wanted to implement all of them for me. When I started messing around with GPT-4, it sort of unlocked that fantasy for me. I was able to describe an idea and get code generated. Then the code wasn’t perfect, and I ended up having to hunt down tutorials and gits and read API documentation and basically halfway learned to code while fixing its mediocre code. But for me, that process was much much easier than starting from scratch.

Where did you come up with the ideas for Mixtape Machine and The Five Minute Poem?

I am most interested in software that unlocks human creativity. I grew up playing text based RPGs, including early multiplayer online games where you build things together, and I always loved character creators and engaging with non-player characters in improv. These are just the things that are fun to me! I guess when I’m coding, ever since I was a kid, I’m just trying to entertain myself.

Anyway, with the Mixtape Machine and the Poetry Generator both, I was interested in exploring the uses of OpenAI’s chat bots in a different mode than most people use them — to prompt human creativity, in the case of the poetry game, or to collect thoughts in a sort of dreamlike way, for Summbot (the mixtape machine).

For the poetry generator, all the prompt questions in the input box were written by GPT-4. I used some reference names such as Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies and David Lynch, and provided some example questions, to get at the kind of weird thing I wanted to prompt. It’s meant to just be a little private exercise to unstick yourself.

Summbot the mixtape machine took a lot longer and was a much bigger idea. I love making people custom playlists — when I was younger they were physical mix CDs or tapes — and I think it’s such a warm and important human thing that would be totally lost in a “metaverse world” the way some people imagine it. I also always want to share music with people, but find I lack the expertise/authority to just be a critic type figurehead. I’d much rather flirt with everyone in the world and then give them a few songs that remind me of them. So that’s what Summbot is designed to do.

I made the images of “Summbot” in Midjourney, but they are mostly combinations of Midjourney outputs “blended” with my own original artwork and selfies. There’s like 300 of them and they reload when you reload the page. After you chat with Summbot, she makes you a mixtape that’s based on a giant playlist of mine, filtered by keywords from your conversation. She also creates a title and a cover, which she generates by making a Dalle prompt based on your convo. Every once in awhile something goes wrong, but I think it’s pretty fun and addictive. One friend called her a “Manic Pixie Summbot” and that’s probably pretty accurate.

What blogs/newsletters are you reading?

I love my old colleague Ryan’s newsletter Garbage Day, and I think he has the sharpest POV on the changing internet and AI stuff out there. I am an obsessive reader of Casey Lewis’s After School substack on youth trends — both because it touches a lot of my day job work as a Creative Director at a communications agency, Praytell Strategy, and also because I’m always trying to stay cool as I get older. And — not coding related, but feels like I would be remiss not to mention I’m a huge Jokermen podcast universe fanatic. I mostly lurk in their Discord but it is one of my favorite online communities.

What site or tool do you wish everybody knew about?

I’m a huge fan of Glitch and letting everyone know how easy and fun it is to use lol (not paid to say this). I also think Canva and Notion are great tools with great free levels and fairly priced paid plans — they help my not-organized and not-clean brain do better work. Lastly, shoutout to JMPerez’s Spotify DeDupe tool, which helped me clean up my Summbot playlist.

What is your favorite thing about the internet?

I just like all the places where people go to express parts of themselves to each other and leave something behind of who they are. I think we’re cute.

Where can we find you online?

I’m @summeranne on ig, spotify, and twitter for now (anyone have a bluesky invite I can have?). If you are interested in working with me, get in touch [email protected] through Praytell Strategy — my interest in AI was spurred by my work there and we are always open to collaboration! <3

Summer Anne Burton is the creative director at Praytell Agency, as well as a drummer, DJ, writer, illustrator, and Glitch creator!