Robin from Devil Fish recently decided to publish a confidential email exchange we had some time ago. We had reached out to see if there's a way to collaborate, something we have accomplished with many other small manufacturers. Since Robin unfortunately chose to breach confidentiality by publishing our emails, we feel compelled to share the full correspondence so you can form your own opinion.
Again this is all very regretful and unusual; negotiations do fail all the time, but people then gracefully bow out and try to leave the bridge intact for future opportunities.
For years, this Devilfish mod of the 303 has been very popular in the DIY scene (google: XOXBOX Devilfish) and is around US$ 3 in component cost. If we ever choose to build such a model, we’ll simply look into these openly available circuitries or develop them ourselves as there very simple.
Frankly, we would have enjoyed to co-market a Behringer/Devilfish unit, but paying US$ 300,000 and doubling the unit price is simply not in line with our Customer philosophy.
I apologize for the long exchange.
Thank you for your feedback.
Unfortunately these financial expectations are completely outside of our abilities as we work on very low margins. Our Vision and customer promise is to empower musicians with little money and not the wealthy ones. Our calculations are always based on BOM costs.
As I shared before, we totally understand and respect your decision - no hard feelings. Unfortunately we won’t be able to cooperate under these terms. Finally I hope that our conversation remains confidential.
We wish you all the best and thank you for your time.
On Nov 16, 2019, at 18:14, Robin Whittle <[email protected]:
Thanks for your replies.
In this message "I" and "my" means Tina and me and "we" and "our" means you, your company and Tina and me.
I am willing and able to:
1. Collaborate with your team to create the schematic, mechanical and other design changes to adapt the TD-3 to create a new Behringer Whittle Devil fish (BWDF). The changes and new circuitry are not overly complex, but they are very particular.
2. Endorse and promote this product. This includes interviews. If you want me to travel to a launch, or trade show or whatever, you will need to pay for my travel.
3. Grant you the right to manufacture a fully licensed Devil Fish with exclusivity for some time period, such as 3 years, so you can launch your product without concern about low priced Devil Fishes appearing from any of your competitors. This would not prevent me from making my own products and continuing modifications, but these will be no competition for our BWDF, since they will be priced 5 to 10 times higher. I would also undertake not to endorse any DSP Devil Fish emulation, whether for PCs, tablets, DAW plugins or embedded hardware devices, for at least 5 years. It is technically impossible to do a proper DSP emulation without extreme levels of compute power, and I have no interest in writing or authorizing any such emulation software.
So the Devil Fish will always be an analogue, hardware, device.
I don't need to license the Devil Fish to anyone, since in the next few years I will produce my own, with a ~USD$ 2k price, metal chassis etc. Over a few years I could ramp up production and sell several thousand, direct to customers, making ~USD$ 1k profit on each one.
I would like to license the Devil Fish to an established manufacturer, since there is a huge market for mass-produced machines I will never be able to meet, due to lack of capital (especially for injection molding die), lack of marketing arrangements and because I don't want to run such a large business.
Roland would be be most attractive choice, but Jun-ichi Miki is philosophically opposed to using analogue circuitry: https://cdm.link/2019/11/roland-anal...kes-statement/ . Korg, Cyclone Analogic and Malekko/Darkplace are other alternatives - and I have had good relations with the latter two.
Then there is Behringer / Music Tribe, especially with your rolling wave of analogue synth recreations - even more so now you have the TD-3. You wrote:
We would love to design a Devil Fish Version (of the TD-3) and reach out to you to see if you are interested to collaborate with us. That would be awesome.
I agree entirely. I am willing and able to support your team ASAP to design a Devil Fish derivative of the TD-3- but not a whole new product, which is what you mentioned in your 2nd email.
The BWDF would sell for about twice the extremely low price of the TD-3, and would still very inexpensive and affordable to vast numbers of people. I have no crystal ball regarding sales figures, but you should be able to sell 15k or so (the rumoured total TB-303 production figure, though not all were sold) in the first year or so.
The BWDF would need to meet my requirements regarding performance, look, feel, robustness, long-term reliability and user documentation. I outlined these in my 2nd email to you, on 11th November. Ideally it would be the same size as the TD-3. It would contain all the extra inputs, outputs, switches, pots and LEDs of the current Devil Fish TB-303 modification. Ideally I would add another small pot so the user can limit the amplitude of high frequency filter resonance. There is no space for this in my TB-303 modification, so this small pot would be unique to the BWDF.
Your company would be highly regarded for making an affordable, high quality, mass-produced version of a very hard to obtain and keenly sought after synthesizer, which is unique in a number of respects. In particularly you would be well regarded for working with a living designer, rather than copying designs from the past.
To fully evaluate the value of what I am offering you, you really need to play a Devil Fish.
Listening to recordings of other people play with them tells you very little about the experience your BWDF customers will have.
If you send me two or more TD-3s, with schematics, I will return one of two of them to you with full Devil Fish modifications - on a separate, attached, metal panel - with the HF resonance limit pot. Then you and your TD-3 team can play with these machines for yourselves.
I need to make good money on this collaboration. You will make much more than I do, which is fine, but only if you abandon what I think is habitual thinking about low margins.
I understand you face tough price competition for many of your products, especially the mixers which contain so much hardware. I have two MX802As, two QX1204USBs and one 1002B. Thanks for these - I find them beautiful in all respects!
Your larger synth recreations are also surely expensive in terms of tooling, parts and production costs - so I understand you pricing these pretty close to the bone too.
However, with the huge unmet demand for TB-303clones, and the simplicity and small size and weight of the TD-3, I think you are mistaken in setting its retail price so low. You could double the retail price and, I think, hardly lose any sales. People would respect the machine more if its price wasn't so cheap.
With the BWDF, the only competition would be from my modifications and future products at 5 to 10 times the price. There will be no authorized DSP emulations.
I think the BWDF should retail for at least USD$300. Be happy making money from it - probably to invest in other analogue synth projects which no-one but you would attempt.
No other synthesizer, of any size or cost, sounds as gutsy as the Devil Fish. No other machine can go from silence, to sighing, to singing, to screaming, booming and thumping by way of turning knobs or just the pitch CVs of higher or lower notes opening or closing the filter with Filter Tracking, as I mentioned in my previous message. No other compact synth can create such chaotic waveforms: http://www.firstpr.com.au/rwi/dfish/...veform-q90.jpg with correspondingly rich and evocative sounds.
(This is from http://www.firstpr.com.au/rwi/dfish/...bleat-70ms.gif which is from 20.869 to 20.890 seconds of https://soundcloud.com/robin-whittle...3-more-drastic.)
My demos emphasize drastic extremes of Devil Fish usage. I guess most people use Devil Fishes for more melodic purposes. There's much wider range of customers than those devoted to Acid.
I intend that our collaboration will result in you selling tens of thousands of these machines. The royalties will enable me to spend more time designing the future generation 2 Devil Fish some years from now - with an eye to this being made by you too, though at present it is planned for me to make.
Your BWDF customers will be my customers too, and while I don't need their contact details, I will hear from some of them. I will ensure that their Devil Fish experience is up to my standards, by working with your team regarding the design, including such things as the Omron sealed tact switches.
In order to achieve the collaboration I have in mind - which would be truly awesome and celebrated as such by thousands of enthusiastic people the world over - you will need to do business with me in ways which are probably different to your past arrangements.
You can't buy the Devil Fish design. It is not for sale. You can license it from me in one of two ways - Plans A and B below - and in both cases I will be involved in the design and user manual to ensure the machine works really well for decades to come. You will have my full support and endorsement for the product. It should be attributed along the lines of "Designed in collaboration with Robin Whittle", but this could go on the back edge of the case, or the bottom. It doesn't need to do on the front - and front panel space is a precious resource.
Plan A is what I mentioned in my 2nd email: 10% of the USD$ recommended retail price to Q5k; 12.5% to Q10k; Q10k+ 15% - payable every 6 months based on ex-factory shipments.
Plan B is a flat-rate license to produce as many BWDFs as you like, for USD$303k per annum, payable 6 monthly, beginning on the day I approve your mechanical design, schematics, critical component choices, firmware and the performance of a prototype you send me embodying all these.
Whichever arrangement you choose, there would be some things to refine to give you security that I am not going to arbitrarily withdraw or up the price of the license in the years to come. In both cases I would agree to support and endorse your product and not license any other manufacturer to use the Devil Fish as long as our agreement continues. So I would expect both agreements to continue for as long as you are manufacturing this specific product. If there are other Devil Fish related products you want to pursue, we would negotiate agreements for those too.
I would prefer Plan A, because I am confident that you will sell lots of BWDFs and because I believe customers would generally be happy knowing 15% or so of the retail price goes to the designer of the Devil Fish aspect of their machine, just as royalties are paid to authors and musicians.
If you chose Plan A, I will make it known that we have a royalty arrangement which resembles those of authors and publishers. If you choose Plan B I will make it known that I am happy with the annual license fee we negotiated. I would not go into details, but I would be keen to convey that I licensed the design to you rather than sold it.
An alternative is Plan C, where you devise your own souped-up TD-3, which doesn't use any Devil Fish circuits or principles, and so which will never be confused with a Devil Fish.
If someone asks me whether I discussed licensing the Devil Fish design to Behringer, I would reply along the lines of:
"Uli asked me to collaborate on Behringer Devil Fish, to carry my name and endorsement. I was keen to pursue this on a royalty basis, with me working on the design with his team, with the product meeting my requirements for performance, look, feel, robustness, long-term reliability and user documentation. This would have been, as he wrote in his initial invitation, awesome.
"However, we were unable to reach agreement on commercial terms for such a collaboration. They did a fresh design, which is not derivative of the Devil Fish, so now there is greater diversity in the field of TB-303-style synthesizers."
The controversy regarding your minimoog copy makes it reasonable for me to consider Plan D:
There's no legal basis for me restraining you or anyone else from copying the Devil Fish circuitry exactly or in principle. If I was no longer selling Devil Fishes - as modifications or manufactured products - there would be no moral or company reputation reasons why you shouldn't copy the design. However, I am selling and developing the Devil Fish - and I protect the Devil Fish reputation and the interests of customers by insisting on minimum requirements of any product you or any other licensee would make.
If you made a souped-up TD-3 containing Devil Fish circuitry, then I would assume that you copied these from my design. You requested my collaboration and made no mention of any ideas your design team had already developed. Your team didn't even think of using a MIDI controller such as Mod Wheel to drive Filter frequency. All it takes is a little imagination, half an hour writing firmware, one PWM pin, two resistors and a capacitor.
If a future Behringer product partly or wholly copies the Devil Fish without my authorization, then I and many other people would be most unhappy. I will be happy to talk by phone about a Devil Fish licensing arrangement that suits us both - and about the details of the proposed Behringer Whittle Devil Fish, which I am keen to bring to fruition.