Capitec Masterclass:

Bontle Smith on networking and building social capital in

the music industry

To establish their name, an artist needs to network to create the right relationships. Amapiano star Bontle Smith shares tips on networking and building social capital in the music industry. 

 

Bontle Smith may have blown up in the amapiano era, with hits such as ‘Amanikiniki’ and ‘Oga’ under her belt, but she released her first single in 2010 with Soul Candi’s DJ Giggs Superstar titled ‘Lose Yourself in the Music’.

 

Today, her long list of collaborators includes the likes of DJ Maphorisa, Cassper Nyovest, MFR Souls, Kabza De Small and Tyler ICU. She has a strong social capital, a phrase the Oxford dictionary explains as “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.”

 

Bontle was always singing, since the days she and her friends used to mimic what they saw on Jam Alley growing up. She found her niche while studying at UJ, where she became part of a singing group called Currents of Blackness.

When she decided to pursue music full-time, she found herself in the right circles. She brings up the importance of building oneself; social media is a crucial tool for getting your name out there. Your body of work and its presentation will do the talking for you when you network.

 

But where exactly does one network? “Anywhere,” she says. “Gigs, in the clubs, formal events… It doesn’t matter where, as long as it’s the right people.”

 

You’ll have to email and DM those people at times, she says. Whatever your medium, her advice on establishing those new relationships is: “When you approach people, just be yourself, know exactly what you want from that next person, what type of relationship you want to build with that person. Just be you, be genuine.”

 

By being yourself, you are able to stand out from the crowd; nobody can do you better than you, remember. As for Bontle, she knows herself and what makes her unique. “My dancing and singing simultaneously,” she says. “Not many artists can do that. Also, learning how to read the crowd. I can have three gigs in a night for example, and my set, my performance set, won’t be the same because of the different types of crowds that I have to experience. So, reading the crowd and knowing which songs to perform to them, not many artists are really good at that. Some artists have a set performance and that’s it for every show. So, I know how to read the crowd and know which songs to sing for the crowd.”

Social capital is volatile in that one needs to be constantly adapting to retain it. “The level of persistence, consistency and creating social relationships is very important,” she says. “You need relationships in order to grow. The music industry changes and you shouldn’t be afraid of change. And sometimes you need new relations to get to where you need to be in the music industry.”

 

She emphasises the importance of having a team as a musician. “My dancers, DJ and my driver,” she says. “Those are the people that I spend most of the time with and those are the people that impact my performance. So, even if I’m at my lowest, those are the people who pick me up and try to change my mood and bring me back to focus: ‘Listen, we’re about to perform now, leave your personal stuff aside, this is what we’re gonna do, you’ll come back to it when we get back home.’

“I need my road manager who makes sure that I get to my gigs on time and everything is running smoothly. When I get to the gig, I receive everything I need in terms of me performing. I need my dancers who I usually perform with, I need my DJ and I need my driver.”

There’s a lot that goes into building a strong brand as a musician in a world teeming with talented artists. It takes a team and other support structures for an artist to stand out as a brand.

Bontle shares more about the types of relationships one needs as a musician:

 

Producers

“You need to have a relationship with new producers that will produce the music, and not just producers, but good producers that will produce good music that is relevant at that time. Good producers make music that will last and not music that will just die out prematurely.”

 

DJs

“You need DJs who will play your music. Send out your music to all kinds of DJs if you can. As long as they play the music, people will hear your music at events, parties, weddings and the like.”

 

A manager

“You also need a relationship with a manager. Because there are so many things that we as artists can’t really do and then it’s like, the manager is the main person that just takes care of everything and takes that load off your shoulder. I need my manager who takes care of all the admin and deals and documentation that I don’t need to stress about.”

 

Public relations (PR) people

“You need PR; someone who will promote your brand, your image and your music.”

This article is part of a new series of masterclasses, powered by Capitec. The five-part series will run for the next four months.

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