Text: Managing Success - Spencer Howard talks to Olivier Toussaint, the man behind Richard Clayderman


Olivier Toussaint looks like a star: the epitome of a French matinee idol. Tall, sophisticated, suave, with tremendous presence and stunning charisma. He acts like a star, too, and exudes a warm Gallic charm, an almost boyish enthusiasm for showbusiness and a gentle sense of humour.  He talks passionately about music... and indirectly he has been responsible for amassing worldwide record sales nearing 100 million. Toussaint is a flamboyant Frenchman who just happened to discover a phenomenon and went on to create a legend.

Richard Clayderman

For the past twenty five years or so, he has meticulously guided the international career of his protégé, Richard Clayderman. He has seen him emerge from almost total obscurity as an unknown session musician in Paris, to become one of the biggest selling recording artists the world has ever seen, with an incredible 218 Gold and 60 Platinum Discs [1999 figures] to his credit, although that figure changes virtually every day.  Toussaint was once quoted as saying "A good pianist with a bad manager, will not amount to much.  A good artist alone cannot accomplish much.  "Quite simply, Toussaint is a good manager and his delicate skills, coupled with Clayderman's talent and virtuosity as a musician, is a devastating combination and his own achievements are a true testimony to that fact.

For the man who has quietly planned and masterminded this success, Toussaint remains refreshingly modest about his contribution to Clayderman's outstanding career, preferring to heap the acclaim on Richard's own shoulders.  "The fascinating thing about Richard," he says, "is that he has been at his very best over the last 23 years. And we still have a long, long way to go." 

It was Toussaint and his partner Paul de Senneville, both renowned producers in their own right and who successfully run the French recording company Delphine, who in 1977, handpicked Clayderman from a bunch of young and unknown hopefuls at an audition.  They were searching for a pianist to play and record a gentle ballad they had written for de Senneville's daughter, Adeline, entitled "Ballade pour Adeline".  From 20 other aspiring pianists, Clayderman got the job -he stood out from the rest.

Ballade pour Adeline

"He was an interesting musician with a soft touch and good technique," says Toussaint. "And he looked good, too.  But after the song was recorded, we simply could not have predicted its outstanding success.  At first we didn't have a goal to aim for with Richard. How could we?  It was all so new. We thought the records potential sales would be around 10,000 singles, maybe 20,000.  We honestly could not have expected to be so successful the way things have happened.  But it was not an overnight phenomenon.  Richard Clayderman's career did not take off immediately all over the world.  It came gradually, country by country, year after year.

"When we started out trying to establish Richard, we decided to take each new market as a separate identity," he says. "We learnt as we went along.  Every market is different so we had to apply different rules to each territory.  No two are the same."  "It's funny, but after we had a little success at the beginning and we started to build for the future, a lot of people kept telling me that I was an expert in marketing, which was an enormous compliment because I was really only learning myself.  

"Things started to snowball so quickly and I was doing the very best I thought possible according to my own instincts for what I thought would benefit his career. I believed passionately in Richard. But to be honest, I had no big marketing plan at all.  No strategy.  It all came together so easily by chance.  Eleven years ago, marketing was not as important as it has become today." 

So why did he choose Clayderman, and what was the attraction of a piano player?  "Instinct I suppose" he smiles. "My partner and I were also handling Jean Claude Borelly, a fantastic trumpeter who was acclaimed in many countries throughout the world.  He was a big star in France, Germany, South America and Japan and had sold a lot of records.  We were very pleased with his success and we basically knew the market we were aiming for." Being a Frenchman, Toussaint was elated when Clayderman started to break through in England.

World Markets

"All the markets of the world and important..." he says. "...but England is special.  It is unique.  It is a very difficult record market to break into for a foreigner because the music scene has always been dominated by British and American artists."Very few French artists have become big starts in Britain in recent years, only Charles Aznavour and Sacha Distel spring to mind, and I could not imagine that it could not happen again for some time.  So, I was delighted when Richard started to take off.  But I firmly believe it was that winning combination of Richard's charisma and his outstanding musical ability that hone through as it has all over the world.  Shortly after he established himself in Britain, he succeeded in America."

Through Richard Clayderman's undoubted success, Toussaint has not only become one of the most successful record producers in the world, but also one of the most acclaimed and accomplished personal managers. Yet he modestly shrugs his shoulders when you try to sing his own praises.  "I try to do my best," he says. "I try to produce Richard's records to the best of my ability and to handle his career in exactly the same way.  I am always there to iron out any problem that might arise and to take care of him professionally.  I also try to ease his workload as much as possible.  But, of course, I can't do it alone.  I also try to surround myself with the right team to act on his behalf, people with specialist knowledge in their own fields.  I have the same working pattern all over the world, and it works well.

So, what is his own specific role?

"Well, I produce and arrange Richard's records with my partner Paul de Senneville, and I help to choose the right kind of material to record, for each particular country we are playing.  But I couldn't possibly do everything.  I am not a Svengali character.  Richard himself, a strong character, knows what he wants to do and exactly where he is going.  I just help to nudge him in the right direction occasionally.  We have a very good working association and trust each other.  I try to look after his career with dignity.


"It was never my strategy to say that I know everything that needs to be done at all times.  How could I?  I am always listening to advice and suggestions from other people.  We have a healthy dialogue.  I listen to what the experts say in each different area and then act accordingly.  "They give sound advice and I am delighted to back their judgment.  I am French which can sometimes be a handicap in the international market place because I do not possess the mentality of an American, or an Australian, or an Englishman so I do not conduct my business in this way.  I need to be guided...and I listen a lot...It's the best policy.     

Olivier Toussaint's own career is steeped very much in music.  "Music, music, music...it is my passion," he admits.  "I always wanted a career in music, although my mother told me that it could be a dangerous path to follow and I must get a degree and qualifications in the professions to fall back on.  So to please her, I studied Sociology at University in Paris.  But as soon as I graduated, I was back making music."  He worked professionally as a singer and musician, playing guitar.
After performing with several local groups and bands in the French capital, he later turned his hand to writing, producing and recording and enjoying a few hit records in his own right.  At the same time he was involved in writing for television and the cinema.  "I wanted to work, to do anything as long as it involved music," he admits.

After he became more successful, he opened his own Parisian recording studio. "It was very small, little more than two tape recorders".  He met Paul de Senneville and the two formed what has become a unique partnership.  "I was looking for a producer for my material and songs when we met," he says.  "Paul was recording Michel Polnareff at the time and was very successful.  I played him some of my songs which he quite liked and we started writing together.  When we had build up a large enough repertoire we began recording.  Michel Polnareff recorded one of our songs and took it to Number One in France.

Dolannes Melody

"Then, Jean-Claude Borelly recorded another song, Dolannes Melody - which we had written for the movie, 'Un Linceul n'a Pas de Poche' and it sold over two million copies in France alone.  It was very successful, although the film was a disaster." Today, Olivier and Paul run a thriving organisation in the centre of Paris which boasts no less than four major studios, and a highly successful record company. 

"When I started working with Richard Clayderman, I had no intention of becoming a manager.  But I had so much faith in him that I thought it would be a nice idea to look after him myself, especially the international aspects of his career.  My experience in this direction was very limited, but I was determined to take a chance.  I've been very lucky.  Now I also look after the career of Nicolas de Angelis, who is also very popular in France and Australia."  Yet what he fails to mention is that he is very much in demand to represent a number of artists and he has been approached on many occasions.


"You have to have a very special relationship with your artists.  It's hard work and if you have too many clients how can you give each one individual attention?  You have to give 100 per cent, 24 hours a day.  Luckily I can combine my career as manager with record production and composing.  I have the best of every world."

For the future, however, Toussaint is still passionately involved with Richard Clayderman's career.  "There's no end to what Richard Clayderman might achieve," he enthuses.  "And each year we set ourselves new projects to achieve in each of the many countries he has become successful - projects specifically geared to each individual territory.  It might be a concert tour, a new record album, television appearances.  This way the work is stimulating and exciting.  We try to consolidate as much as we can and to retain Richard's identity."  With Olivier Toussaint at the helm, Richard Clayderman will never have an identity crisis.


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