A couple of days ago we reported on the story that Chinese music technology website Midifan were being sued by Behringer/Music Group for using words such as “Shameless” and “Copycat” when referring to Behringer’s synthesizer clones. After sharing the article on social media a bit of a debate ensued over the language use, Chinese translations (which vary from “copycat” to “plagiarism in dogs”), and how much people love or hate what Behringer are doing.
Much of the discussion centred around Midifan’s reporting of a strike at the MUSIC Tribe City factory which, Midifan claims, is the reason why they’ve been targeted by Behringer for legal action. Obviously, we all have first-hand experience of Chinese business practices and workplace health and safety and so everyone had an opinion. It’s difficult to know what’s true in these sorts of situations. From this outsider’s point of view, it appeared to be very heavy-handed of Behringer to take a swipe at a news site for sharing an opinion when the internet is already full of this sort of view and far worse language. Uli Behringer has actually handled most of the negativity directed at their cloning of synthesizers with a certain amount of aplomb. He gets stuck in, responds to criticism directly on forums and other places, and it does him and his company a lot of credit.
Now Uli has responded with a post to the Synthesizer Freaks Facebook group. I’ll copy the full contents of the post below as only members of that group can access it, but here are some of the highlights.
Uli says that they’ve had a “rather ambivalent relationship with some publishers and magazines simply because we’ve chosen not to advertise”. He doesn’t believe in a “dishonest “pay to play” scheme, where favourable reviews are granted in return for placing ads.” And he cites this as the reason why some magazines would publish “unfavourable articles and reviews.” That’s a pretty cynical attitude right there. I’m a freelance writer and creator of music technology content. I’ve written for Sound On Sound, Computer Music and many other magazines and outlets and have never once found any hint of bias. And I’ve been critical of some pretty big advertisers.
He also made it clear that no one had reached out to him or his head office for comment “despite the fact that each of them claimed to do so”. My article, the one that kicked off the discussion on Synthesizer Freaks, made no such claim.
Uli says he’s not familiar with the libel case against Midifan and he’ll do some digging and report back. That begs the question as to who authorised the legal proceedings. Maybe we’ll find out.
Then he goes on to talk about his MUSIC Tribe City factory and the strike that Midifan reported. Here’s the story according to Uli: One of the engineers was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after moving to the new factory. Then a rumour spread that it was something to do with the air in the factory (which is not how leukemia works), panic ensued which resulted in the strike. Music Group sent everyone home while they carried out tests for formaldehyde and other hazardous materials – none were found, Uli says. They also footed the medical bills of the sick engineer who is now recovering.
The report on the Midifan website has a slightly different view. Taking it through the lens of Google Translate, there are reports of “half the workers felt dizzy after entering the new factory”. The leukemia case is mentioned but is not the focus of the article. Instead, it revolves around the fact that they were not allowed to open windows and that the environmental testing equipment approval had expired and the testing companies qualifications had been revoked. There’s an email containing a message from Uli to “PLEASE KEEP OFFICE WINDOW CLOSED” as the building has air conditioning and a filtering system which is going to work far better than opening windows which will let dust and noise in. That sounds completely reasonable to me, but you can understand the very human need to open a window if your workplace smells and makes you feel dizzy.
Of course, Uli wants to play down the strike and we can choose to take him at his word when he says, “only a safe, well-treated and engaged workforce will care about your company and deliver outstanding results” and, “we believe in making a difference when it comes to how our workforce is treated and the way we manufacture our products.” But the report from Midifan is detailed and troubling. What I hope is that this increased scrutiny, whichever side of the argument you want to take, pushes Music Group to ensure they live up to the ideals put forward by their CEO.
Uli then points with relish to an independent job portal Jobui.com who ranks MUSIC Tribe City as the:
– No 1 most popular electronics factory
– No 1 most popular recruiting company
– No 1 most employee caring company
Reading via Google Translate, the third one appears to be “most watched company” rather than “most employee caring company” – but what do I know? It also has a review rating of 42.3% and 3 out of 5 stars. So there appears to be room for improvement.
Lastly, Uli invites all of us to go and visit his factory in Zhongshan and they’d be happy to show us around. “Drop by any time,” he says. He then points us to some colleagues and praises the heck out of his workers: “We are certainly not perfect and never will be, but I can tell you that we are damn proud of our people and our engagement with them.”
It’s the sort of post that the hard-working people of MUSIC Tribe City deserve. A CEO that defends his company and is open enough to offer up explanations for their conduct and support for their staff. Let’s hope the talk is backed up by the reality. Uli Behringer, whichever way you spin it, is a remarkable man. And with this sort of openness they shouldn’t have any need to threaten legal action against a news outlet. That action does nothing but harm to themselves and makes Uli’s projection of himself and his company slightly less believable.
My view is that it’s very difficult to criticise the practices of a factory on the other side of the world operating under a different culture and system to our own. And you’ve only got to glance around you to find goods that were probably produced in worse conditions. My opinion of the Behringer synthesizers is based upon hearing the enthusiasm and passion of the Midas engineers talking about their development. They are recreating and building upon some classic synthesizer heritage that’ll enable a much wider audience to enjoy them. And although that seems crazy at times, it’s got to be a good thing. I’m not expecting any free synthesizers to come my way so I’ll just keep reporting on interesting stories as they arise and sharing my thoughts on them.
Meanwhile, Behringer has just posted another teasing PCB on their Facebook page to distract us back into talking about gear and stuff. Looks like some sort of 303 style sequencer to me!
- Our original article about the legal action.
- Midifan article on the strike (via Google Translate).
- MUSIC Tribe City Facebook page.
Uli’s post in full:
since the media has picked up on the Chinese Media legal case plus the factory labor strike last year, please allow me to respond.
In the spirit of transparency, I believe it is important to address and correct some of the misconceptions associated with these topics.
It is also worth mentioning that none of the media outlets has ever contacted our head office nor myself for comments despite the fact that each of them claimed to have done so. As you are aware, I am all always reachable through social media channels and never shy away from sensitive topics.
Over the past 30 years that we have been in business, we’ve had a rather ambivalent relationship with some publishers and magazines simply because we have chosen not to advertise. The reason is simple – we don’t believe in the common and dishonest “pay to play” scheme, where favorable reviews are granted in return for placing ads.
As you can easily see, some magazines choose to retaliate and do publish very biased and unfavourable articles and reviews. I guess we have to live with it. However I have always believed that people are smart enough to see through this behavior.
We believe that our customers deserve unbiased, honest and independent reviews from real users and those can easily be found on many trusted retailers’ websites. However there are also honest publishers whom we have incredible respect for as the have chosen integrity over commerce.
Since I am not yet familiar with the Chinese media case in question, I will need to first gather all facts, especially as complex foreign language is involved. Please give me a bit more time and hence allow me to first address the factory labor strike that happened last year.
First of all, let me be very clear that our factory called MUSIC Tribe City has passed all environmental tests executed by a government certified lab as part of the stringent occupancy permit process. Over 3,000 air samples were taken from all areas of the factory, comprehensive results were published and made available to all our factory people.
When we moved into our new factory this year, the environmental tests had not yet been completed and a few weeks after our move, one of our engineering colleagues was unfortunately diagnosed with leukemia.
While it is easier for more medically educated people to understand that cancer won’t develop within a few weeks, panic spread among the people who believed that the person’s illness had to do with the new factory environment and people decided to strike.
During the environmental testing period, our people were allowed to stay at home while receiving full pay and after the results were published, operations immediately resumed. Neither were formaldehyde nor other hazardous chemicals found as suggested by the media. While not mandated by law and contrary to what was published, we certainly covered the person’s medical bills.
Most importantly we’re extremely happy that our colleague is now recovering and will hopefully soon return.
Who in today’s world would not consider employee health and wellbeing to be the highest priority? Only a safe, well-treated and engaged workforce will care about your company and deliver outstanding results. We’re taking employee health, safety and environmental aspects extremely seriously and hence we have been implementing many “green” projects such as electric buses, waste water and dust collection and recycling systems, etc.
In fact, this is the exact reason why we built our own factory so we don’t have to rely on third party contractors like our competitors. We believe in making a difference when it comes to how our workforce is treated and the way we manufacture our products.
We are very proud that we have been ranked the No. 1 employer by the leading and independent job portal (http://www.jobui.com/company/35895/)
Our factory MUSIC Tribe City is ranked in Zhongshan:
– No 1 most popular electronics factory
– No 1 most popular recruiting company
– No 1 most employee caring company
Special thanks goes to all our factory leaders who work extremely hard to make a difference for our people.
Everyone is invited to visit us in Zhongshan and we’re happy to show you around for you to meet our people.
Our head of operations at MUSIC Tribe City is Paul Coates, a British individual and the head of HR and People Development is Dominik Klett who originates from Germany.
Both are exceptional and caring individuals who enjoy my full trust to look after our people and the factory.
My colleagues and I will be more than happy to show you around – drop by any time. And if you like to speak to any of our people here on our MUSIC Tribe Facebook page, just contact them.
We are certainly not perfect and never will be, but I can tell you that we are damn proud of our people and our engagement with them.
And finally, I too live and work in MUSIC Tribe City – hence we all breathe the same air.
Thanks for listening and your great support.