Promoted to General Manager of Secret City Records in November of 2023, a position she amply deserves, Magali Ould is now focusing her attention on the direction and management of the daily operations of one of the most interesting independent labels in Canada. Meet a decision-maker who started at the bottom of the ladder and has now learned all the ropes.

Magali Ould, of Algerian descent, now a 43-year-old woman, grew up in Montréal’s Outremont neighbourhood, and held a plethora of jobs – from restaurant server to bra salesperson – during her studies in cinema at Université de Montréal.

In 2009, despite her lack of experience in the music industry, Ould was hired by Gourmet Délice, one of the heads of Bonsound – another prosperous label and promotion outfit from Montréal, that’s still going strong. “My ex was a member of Gourmet’s band Le Nombre, and that’s how we met,” says Ould. “He sat me at a desk with a phone and said, ‘You’re going to do radio tracking.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ ‘You call radio stations – here’s a list – and you ask them if they play this or that song, and you log in the information in FileMaker (a now disused software).’ Later, I was also a public relations agent, and I loved both jobs.”

She eventually became Communications Director, while promoting artists from outside Québec, like Arts & Crafts label artists, such as Feist, among others. Four years later, she left the Mile End-based company to join forces with Secret City.

The label was founded in 2006 by Justin West, son of Jim West, who was the founder of the key Canadian jazz label Justin Time (Oliver Jones, Ranee Lee). Justin’s flair in hiring Ould was spot-on; throughout a dozen extraordinary years, she’s played several key roles at the label.

“My roles evolved according to the needs of the company,” says Ould. “I was a PR agent, then a project manager.” Obviously, working a roster of indie artists with incredible international potential, it was a whole new ball game. “We sought strategies, as a team, to break into those markets,” she says.

Magali Ould, Patrick Watson, Gala SOCANThe genius songwriter Patrick Watson was the first signed by Secret City. Soon followed by, among others, Plants and Animals (who’ve been with the label for more a decade), Suuns, Miracle Fortress, Jesse Mac Cormack, Barr Brothers (who’ve been invited to the Late Show with David Letterman twice), Basia Bulat, Leif Vollebekk (who consistently plays sold-out shows in London and Paris), Emily Khan, Jeremy Dutcher… But could electro, metal, or country artists be signed by Secret City? “We’re not closed to any musical genre,” says Ould.

An increasing number of Francophone artists have also been joining the label’s roster such as La Force, Bibi Club (who’s created an intense buzz in Paris), Antoine Corriveau, Klô Pelgag, Daniel Bélanger (“the promo campaign for Mercure en mai was so much fun! “), Flore Laurentienne (whose new album is out on March 1, 2024), and, of course, Alexandra Stréliski, one of the monarchs of the Neo-Classical realm.

Ould has long been the cornerstone of Québec artists nominated for the Polaris Prize, working alongside its founder, Steve Jordan (no longer with the organization). Passionate about music, and with a talent to bring people together, he explicitly asked her to make sure the 200 members of the pan-Canadian jury knew all there was to know about new music coming from La Belle Province.

“During the pandemic, we released Klô Pelgag’s Notre-Dame-des-Sept Douleurs, and her album was short-listed for the Polaris,” says Ould. “She also made a Zoom appearance at the JUNOs. At the end of that three-year campaign, she walked away with 16 Félix awards.”

Secret City Records is home to artists who deliver musical works that are fully formed and fascinating. But are they restricted to niche audiences? “Each country is different,” says Ould. “We rarely get to commercial success with our artists, but their fans are devoted, lifelong fans. It’s unbelievable! An artist’s commercial potential is never the first consideration when we sign someone.

Magali Ould, Alexandra Streliski “The roles of radio, streaming and other media outlets aren’t the same in Portugal as in the U.S., and neither are their budgets,” explains Ould, by way of example. But she hasn’t travelled much for international showcases, like SXSW, in recent years; her focus is more on being the mother of a young boy. “I’m extremely resilient, and I’ve acquired a global vision of the record industry over the past 15 years,” she says, when asked what her main strengths are.

“We’re not depressed by the state of the music industry, despite its difficult and ever-changing nature, and our passion is not diminished by its rough seas,” says Ould. “Maybe that’s what’s contagious. We have no choice but to go forward. And we also want to strike the right balance between our artists who have four or five albums out, and our emerging ones.”

There’s no shadow of a doubt that Ould has earned her stripes. Justin West has masterfully ensured the continuity of his label, and knows he can count on an exceptional woman.