He fell victim to a Ponzi scheme. But now this Utah composer has made a ‘huge’ comeback
The cops and attorneys showed up at the end of the workday. Dark, gloomy faces matched the cold November weather
The cops and attorneys showed up at the end of the workday. Dark, gloomy faces matched the cold November weather.
On that late afternoon in 2018, they herded the employees at HUGEsound Post Production, a media facility in downtown Salt Lake City, into a conference room. And then they delivered a devastating blow: Gaylen Rust, who a couple of years before had bought the company HUGEsound and the building, had allegedly been running a Ponzi scheme for years, defrauding hundreds of investors nationwide of at least $200 million.
For prolific composer Chance Thomas — who had started the company HUGEsound 20 years earlier — the day had been indistinguishable from any other day until that moment. Well known for his work on the video game series The Lord of the Rings Online, Thomas had spent the day mixing the soundtrack for the new video game Warhammer: Chaosbane.
But, sitting in the conference room on that fateful day, a new harsh reality washed over him. And just like that, what had started out as a nondescript day became the day Thomas says he “lost everything.”
“When I sold my business to Gaylen, it included all my composing equipment and music copyrights,” Thomas recently told the Deseret News. “During the years that HUGEsound Post Production was in business, the new music scores I created — including soundtrack agreements and distribution deals — they were also seized by the courts. So when HUGEsound Post Production got shut down, I lost everything.”
Since then, Rust, his ex-wife Denise Gunderson Rust, and their son, Joshua Rust, have all been charged with wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy, according to the Deseret News. Gaylen Rust was also charged with two counts of securities fraud, while Denise Gunderson Rust and Joshua Rust were each charged with one count of money laundering.
Denise Gunderson Rust pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and was scheduled to report to prison in November 2020, according to the Deseret News. The criminal cases against Gaylen Rust and Joshua Rust are pending.
But during this time, Thomas has made a big comeback.
On March 1, after a 23-month long negotiation effort with the courts, he launched a web store — an online music gallery showcasing his video game soundtracks and other music scores he wasn’t sure he’d ever get back.
“Humans are resilient. We get knocked down, we get back up,” he said. “That’s just what people do. … You find your next target. You find your next goal. You just have to get up and start moving forward again.”
But Thomas will be the first to admit that optimism doesn’t always kick in right away.
In the conference room, shock and disbelief waved over Thomas when he heard the words “alleged fraud.”
But it was also a deja vu moment.
He had gone through the same thing two decades before with a company in California, where corporate fraud two layers up brought his work to an end and left him unemployed. That’s when he had gotten the idea to form his own company, HUGEsound, and provide music, sound effects and other services for blockbuster video games and indie films.
His business had relocated to Utah and been growing steadily when, in 2016, Thomas met Rust, an investor who purported to be interested in expanding the company at a new Salt Lake facility. Rust — a rare coin dealer who also owned and managed R Legacy Entertainment LLC — bought Thomas’ company outright and established HUGEsound Post Production. He hired Thomas to help build the music division of the company, which included a subsidiary called HUGEsound Records.
Over two years, hundreds of local musicians, singers and engineers regularly came through and recorded scores for films and video games.
“People loved coming there,” Thomas recalled. “It was like a workshop for people’s imagination, it was like a creative playground.”
And then it all came crashing down.
Twenty years ago, when this last happened to Thomas, he had bounced back with HUGEsound. But now that company had been sold and was tied up in legal proceedings. He wondered how he could possibly recover and move forward, but he knew this much: Whatever he did, he’d have to start from scratch.
So Thomas started by phoning some of his musician friends and buying used equipment from them. He outfitted a room in his house for writing and recording music. He landed some big music score projects and stayed financially afloat — in fact, during the pandemic, Thomas said he has poured $80,000 into local music economies, hiring musicians, editors, engineers, mixers and more for his projects.
Over 23 months, he also worked with a court-appointed negotiator, exploring the possibility of extricating HUGEsound Records — everything from his distribution agreements to the music copyrights to the logo and other website materials.
In a nutshell, he got his happy ending.
A new beginning
On March 1, Thomas finally had his grand reopening. So far, he said, the response has been “wonderful.”
Nine of Thomas’ video game soundtracks — including Lord of the Rings Online, Avatar and King Kong — can now be accessed via his HUGEsound Records web store.
Calling his web store “a boutique art gallery for soundtracks,” Thomas said it’s a challenge for a business like his to reach an audience and thrive in a landscape with giants like Spotify and Amazon Music. But one benefit for Thomas is that some of these original soundtracks can’t be found anywhere else.
Perusing the HUGEsound Records website, you’ll also see behind-the-scenes photos and videos from the recording sessions, many of which took place in Utah. And starting in April, Thomas said the website will spotlight new composers and their soundtracks on a monthly basis.
“There’s no negative side effect to putting on a nice set of headphones and letting dramatic soundtrack music take you on a journey, a fantastical adventure. And that’s what we’re offering,” Thomas said. “We intend to become the essential new outlet for soundtrack music lovers.
“It’s been a long hard road. But here we are, at last.”