Meet the MusicWorks Panelists: Ben Rayner, Claudia McNeilly, Matt Williams, Olivia Michalczuk

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Publicity, media, and fan engagement are key to cutting through the noise and having a successful music career. Media coverage and social media influencers help artists and companies grow their fan base, offer a sense of legitimacy, and connect people to the story behind the music. It is crucial for musicians to know what their story is and understand how to present it to the media. Apart from the story itself, what other assets should be in place for a successful publicity campaign? On June 20, we're teaming up with our friends at the Polaris Music Prize for a DIY Series session, Making Noise in the Media, featuring a discuss how to create an engaging story and professionally present an artist or music business to the media. 

Ben Rayner was drafted as the Toronto Star’s music critic back in 1998 when he was still just a wee sprout. For some reason, Canada’s largest daily newspaper continues to employ him, and for that he is very grateful. Prior to that he did a little time at the Ottawa Sun, and along the way since he’s contributed to a hodgepodge of publications that includes XLR8R, Fashion and He currently serves on the juries for the Polaris Music Prize and the SOCAN Songwriting Prize. He enjoys Joy Division and Kylie Minogue equally.

Claudia McNeilly is a food and music writer, editor, and television personality living in Toronto. She writes two weekly columns in the National Post where she talks about restaurants and food trends. She also covers hip hop for NOW Magazine and hosts the food show Eating Out, which follows Toronto artists to the city's best restaurants to learn more about their careers and the city's food scene. Her writing has also appeared on/in Vogue, Teen Vogue, New York Magazine, FASHION Magazine, Broadly, Munchies, and Canada's 100 Best Restaurants. She is also a culinary judge on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants 2018 and Iron Chef Canada.

Matt Williams is a writer and photographer who always makes sure to mention he’s a born and raised flatlander—Treaty 1 territory—when he has to put together short bios for things like this. He’s published work in outlets like the FADER, VICE, The Guardian, The Globe and Mail, The A.V. Club, and NOW Magazine. He lives on the east coast now, a place decidedly less flat than where he grew up.

Discovering the local music scene just months prior, Olivia Michalczuk started writing volunteer pieces for local music magazines in 2015, at age 21. Using those articles as sample pieces, she acquired a position at he Manitoban. Olivia worked two years as an arts and culture reporter and one as an arts and culture editor before cofounding Paper Cut Winnipeg with Jared Gauthier. Paper Cut partners with local publications to report on current events and also releases a weekly podcast featuring local creators - musicians, visual artists, graphic designers, photographers, etc. Olivia is passionate about the Winnipeg music scene and supporting local artists with their representation in media.

Get to know them better with our little Q+A...

Who was your childhood celebrity crush?

Ben: Winona Ryder. And the crush has lasted well into adulthood.

Claudia: Shia Labeouf

Matt: There were many, but Winona Ryder still holds a special place in my heart.

Olivia: John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. When he stacked two pieces of pizza on top of each other and ate that double-decker slice, I melted.

Would you rather lose all of your money or all of your pictures?

Ben: I’m a new-ish dad so my pictures, although having a daughter kinda solves this quandary because I no longer have any money left to lose.

Claudia: Money

Matt: I’d rather lose the money, of course. You can always make more money.

Olivia: Take my money. Recorded history is gold.

What would the title of your autobiography be?

Ben: Will There Ever Be a Rainbow? 

Claudia: TBA that’s still being written...

Matt: Two Rivers, or a favourite line from a close writer friend of mine: In Broken Time but with Discipline and in Perpetuity.

Olivia: It's amazing how much people tell you off-the-record before, during, and after interviews. I feel like the keeper of secrets for local music. I have to tell their story with a context unknown to the reader. Probably "The Crafter of Secrets" and then I would have a purple robe and a pipe and a monocle on the cover.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve been able to do because of your writing?

Ben: I’ve been lucky to get up to the Arctic a few times because of my job and consider myself very lucky because not a lot of Canadians ever get to visit the actual Great White North. Meeting David Bowie was pretty cool, too, as was having afternoon tea with P.J. Harvey – for whom my daughter, Polly, is named – in San Francisco a few years ago. Standing onstage with Broken Social Scene at Lollapalooza 2006 in Chicago and then getting drunk in their dressing room with Queens of the Stone Age is also up there. This gig is always kind of exciting at the music-geek level. I’m still not over the fact that I got to hang out with Voivod at the JUNO Awards this year.

Claudia: Go on a cheese tour through switzerland

Matt: Make a living, honestly. And I relish the chance to engage with other artists about the way they see the world, and the worlds that are possible through acts of creation. Having those conversations regularly is exciting to me. I can’t imagine another job that’d have me sit down with Nick Cave in his kitchen for a chat. Other than plumbing.

Olivia: I got to interview my heroes Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol, of the nirvanna the band the show.

If you could choose any two famous people to interview who would they be and what’s the first question you’d ask each of them?

Ben: After being a music critic for nearly 25 years, I’ve interviewed almost every musician you can think of at least once but Keith Richards still eludes me. It’s somewhat unprofessional, but I guess maybe I’d ask him “Would you like to smoke a joint?” to break the ice. Because you know he would. If I could travel back in time, I would also like to meet the late Ian Curtis and offer him a hug. I don’t know that he would accept or that it would ultimately make any difference, but having a stranger suddenly pop out of nowhere and go “Buddy, are you okay? Do you need a hug?” probably wouldn’t hurt.

Claudia: Oprah and Beyoncé. What’s your best advice for building an empire. Also, can we please be

Matt: The photographer Sally Mann, and musician Patti Smith. The first question I’d ask them would likely be something banal—conversation is an art! But I’d want to ask Patti what she'd like the inscription on her headstone to be. And I’d like to ask Sally: ‘when you close your eyes and play the film of your life—the one you’ve committed, consciously and subconsciously, to memory—what are the images that haunt it? And why do you hold those images so dear?'

Olivia: Eryka Badhu and Björk. I would ask them "Which one of your lyrics would you inscribe on your gravestone?" and hope they don't walk out. I think they are brilliant and would play along with my no-nonsense approach. Either way, I could probably write a whole article about the answer, even if they said nothing.

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