How NOT To Use Automation as an Indie Musician

(Or “A Guide to Managing Your Robots Responsibly”)

Robots are a dangerous thing.

It’s no secret that I love my robots. After all: time flows like a raging river in one direction, money is just this thing that surges in and out of your life like a tide pool. Automation is what saves me the time I need to be a better human. In fact, screw it… I’m block-quoting that.

Automation is best used to empower your humanity, not to replace it.

As a one-human operation, I have to automate certain tasks in order to spend the most time possible on the ultimate priority: Writing and producing music. Tools like HootSuite, Buffer, IFTTT, and a thousand sketchily-written WordPress plugins allow me to automate SOOOOOO much, but is there a point where I should stop?

Hell yes, there is.

Brian from Chotchkies

I recently watched an automation tragedy unfold in a way that royally pissed off a good friend. The powder keg that mistake lit off was enough to make the offender delete his Twitter account in less than an hour. Let me walk you through the dramatic re-enactment:

  1. The marketer (we’ll call him Bags Douchington) runs a script to post harmless-but-meaningless comments on people’s Instagram feeds. He hopes the photos’ owners will notice the comment, check out his profile, and follow him.
  2. Meanwhile, in my friend’s world, tragedy strikes: A loved one dies at a relatively young age.
  3. My friend posts a heartfelt paragraph or two about what this loss means to him. How he’ll remember the laughs, mourn for the loss, and always be thinking of him. He mentions how devoted this friend was to the wife and children who survive him.
  4. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Bags rolls up in his Camaro and yells “Cool story, bro!” in the voice of that annoying Chotchkies waiter from Office Space.

If I need to explain the effect this had on my grieving friend, you have no humanity in you to begin with. Feel free to automate however the hell much you want. If the point is still too subtle, though, here’s another block-quote for you:

When your robot does something stupid or offensive, YOU are the one who looks like an asshole.

Using Robots To Empower

As I said, I use automation pretty liberally. I have to; I do not employ any assistants or managers to handle promotion for me. But I never, ever, EVER use them to replace real human interaction. Here are some guidelines I’ve learned to live by:

Prodo-1

Automate WHEN you share, not WHAT.

Every morning I pore over RSS feeds full of amazing photos, cool technology, scientific breakthroughs, food porn… Usually I find a few things I want to share with my fans. Rather than a morning brainpoop of my inspirations, I send them out via Buffer so they’re metered out at a reasonable pace during the day. This also has the benefit of starting real, human conversations at unexpected times when one of the shares hits Twitter or Facebook.

Would I ever use an algorithm to find articles and auto-schedule them? Hell no. The first time something hits my feed that’s pornographic, tries to de-bunk climate change, or something else as awful is when I get to spend the rest of the day putting out fires. I’d rather be writing music.

Automate to cross-post, but only if it makes sense.

Whenever I post an article, photo, or event, I use robots to spread them across multiple channels. You may be following me on Facebook, but are you signed up for my email list? You should be, but that’s beside the point.

Blog posts, however, have no business on Instagram. Photos do not belong on my calendar feed. Cross-posting only works if you respect the platforms you’re posting to. Here’s a few of the tools I use to help spread the word:

  • Every time I blog, WordPress plugins tweet my post and cross-post it to LiveJournal*. IFTTT cross-posts it with slightly altered format to my Facebook page and Tumblr. HootSuite sends it to Google+ for the four people that still use it. I respond to all comments personally on each platform.
  • Instead of posting to a bunch of local calendars, I use BandPage to post new concerts and events. They cross-post local events to local publications and blogs for me. That alone probably saves me an hour every time I book a new show.
  • Every photo I post to Flickr is cross-posted to Instagram and Facebook via IFTTT. I respond to all Likes and comments personally on each platform.

* LiveJournal? Seriously? Yes. There are people who still follow me there and they still leave comments. And dammit, I will have a conversation with these people wherever they are most comfortable.

Automate to rekindle, not to sell.

Quinault Rainforest Path - Landscape
I don’t think it’s douchey to re-share some old blog posts from time to time, especially if those posts are worth re-reading. As my audience grows, it’s important to share with them some of my works that they may have missed. Why? Because it deepens our relationship. They get to know more about where I’m coming from. If they comment, I get to know more about them. And I respond to those comments personally.

I use a WordPress plugin to make this happen, but I gave it some very specific rules:

  • Only re-post items I’ve put into a special category, and only 2 or 3 times a day.
  • I curate that category very carefully, making sure the posts are actually relevant and worth re-sharing.
  • Never, ever, ever will I add a hard sell (Buy my album!) to be re-shared again and again.

I also have a series of “welcome” emails that go out every few weeks to new Robot Army members. Each one tells the story about one of my albums. It’s not just a hard sell, though… I make a point to share the story behind each album, things that you’d never know if you just heard me on Pandora. The point is to start a conversation about something I made, not just to shove it in their face.

Conclusion

You may have noticed one major theme here: I never, ever use my robots to pretend they’re me. They will never comment on your photos or blogs, they will never tweet @ you or send direct messages, they will NEVER replace me. The whole point of automation is to give me more time to be human.

If I let them take that humanity from me, why the hell am I bothering to make art?

The Democratically Elected Best of Matthew Ebel Join the Robot Army, get a FREE album!

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