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Crowdfunding Fraudsters: Jeremy Soule and The Northerners, a Five Year Ballad

Fraudster:
2
a:  a person who is not what he or she pretends to be :impostor;

Today’s Crowdfunding Fraudsters sucks, and not because of the content but the subject itself. I’ll be the first to admit that I had, and despite this piece, still have a lot of admiration for Jeremy Soule and the career and artistic vision that far outshines anything I will ever produce, and this isn’t me trying to deflect a potential very angry correspondance. If there is ever a time to use the phrase “this man has more talent in his little finger than I do in my entire body,” Jeremy Soule is a pretty solid contender. The man created some of my most favorite soundtracks in gaming history, from Skyrim to Guild Wars, Company of Heroes and Baldur’s Gate, and of course the fan favorite Rugrats: Totally Angelica Boredom Buster. 

But in order to successfully dive into the curious case of Jeremy Soule and The Northerners, we need to separate the creative mind from the businessman, because while the creative side of Soule is a man ahead of his time, the businessman is an incompetent fraudster with a massive ego and a fraying, incredibly angry line of ripped off customers.

So let’s dive in.

1. Birth of an Album

Way back in the long distant past of early 2013, Jeremy Soule launched and successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign for The Northerner, a symphony by one of the greatest video game music composers since Tommy Tallarico. Expected to launch in September 2013, The Northerner would be Soule’s first foray into the grand traditions of classical music. For fans, this meant more music from one of their favorite composers, and generally a safer genre to back on Kickstarter over gadgets or video games. As with any campaign of this style, the pitch seemed foolproof. Here you have a known composer backed by reliable people, asking for $10 grand, making over $100 grand, who says the only risks are the summer recording sessions going as planned.

“I will be working with the same team that has provided reliable and excellent support throughout my career. Recordings aren’t easy to make, but if planning is done within a reasonable time frame, the process can go smoothly. As we have delved into the initial planning stages of the recording session, scheduling for the summer months affords us enough planning time for a recording of this nature.”

Now of course I wouldn’t be here writing this article if The Northerner had come out on time, or at all. After its successful funding, the campaign went pretty silent until September.

Updates following the initial September 13 date offer occasional reminders that Soule is indeed still alive and working, however by November the following year a recording location had still not been chosen. In June 2015, Soule posts an update announcing that the symphony would be recorded in November. That is November 2015, two years later, for those of you keeping track.

“Today, I am happy to announce that the Symphony will be recorded in November. In the last several months I have traveled the world to survey places of inspiration and possible recording venues.”

The post is followed up in October with a tease that backers will in for a surprise in November. The surprise? Nothing, the campaign would go pretty silent until the 28th, where Soule would not only ignore the previously announced November recording date, but announce that he had so much content that a prequel album would be created!

“In this process, my sketch material has been accumulating. And of course, as with any creative project, the “extras” turned out to be too valuable to discard. So a prequel album became necessary. Today, I’m thrilled to announce Diary.”

So instead of having one album now two years behind schedule and counting, Jeremy Soule could add another to the workload while not actually producing either. As one backer puts it, Soule is basically announcing that after two years of traveling around the world, all he has to show for his time and the backer’s money are some rough, formless edits which themselves aren’t even ready to be listened to.

The next update in February points toward a fall 2016 release for Sketches (the prequel album) and a full symphony release in 2017.

The symphony is absolutely still in progress. I anticipate the Sketches to land late this fall with the full symphony to follow in 2017.

I don’t feel like you need me to spoil whether this went according to plan.

2. The Northerners Doesn’t Exist, And Neither Do Its Instruments

Following months upon months of semi-regular updates including nothing but sheet music, Soule finally updates in Feburary 2017 and his update includes a comment that you might want to take a second look at. And a third, and perhaps a fourth.

When I started this project back in early 2013, I had an idea in mind and a timeline in which to accomplish it, but as I began the work, it grew bigger and more complex. I realized that technology didn’t exist for some of the music I was writing, and that the project would take longer due to these limitations, and its increased length.

Emphasis my own. This distinction is what truly separates the part time crowdfunding fraudsters from the full time professionals, the developers who fund games knowing full stop that the goal isn’t enough to see through to completion, the silicon valley nerds that fund technology knowing that it’s not possible. They don’t convey this to backers, mind you, after all the campaign’s listed risks just wax poetic about how the summer recording session will hopefully go smoothly. Soule conveniently forgets to include the line “oh and the technology for major parts of this symphony don’t exist, and we have no idea when they will be invented.”

Just to reiterate, in no way am I implying that Soule is an incompetent musician, I think his work speaks for itself. Instead of just sitting on his ass, taking in the sights, and going on vacation on his backer’s dime while the technology is built, Jeremy Soule has been spending the past years actually inventing said technology. At this point in the conversation, I could make a snarky joke along the lines of “oh what does Soule need to invent? An electric violin?” but I’d be purposely misrepresenting his statements and I’ll leave that to the Youtube drama channels.

In reality, and as described through his Facebook, the instruments that Soule is inventing sound insanely difficult to build and will be available for other musicians to purchase once they are refined. One instrument, for instance, aims to reduce the mechanical tones of synthesized music by utilizing a breathing tube, allowing the artist to give a more natural feel instead of the on/off binary style of standard keyboard synth. Regardless, backers weren’t too happy to find out that not only was Soule crowdfunding his campaign knowing that it wouldn’t be completed until nonexistent technology was invented, but didn’t really bother explaining that caveat to his backers when he gave the very generous anticipated date of September 2013.

I know what some of you are saying, and you are 100% correct: The comment I quoted above is fake, Jeremy Soule never wrote it, nor did anyone affiliated with Soule. Now I know you’re confused, because I just linked to the official Kickstarter update where that was indeed posted in an official capacity. Let me explain:

This ship is so tightly organized (that’s sarcasm) that a producer, one Gloria Soto of the Max Steiner Agency, posted essentially fan fiction as an official announcement from Soule himself. The statement was written as what a backer hoped Soule would say, including an apology for missed deadlines and a wish that backers would hang on until the final product could be launched. Soto assumed that the post was written by Soule and posted it as an official announcement, and since Kickstarter won’t let creators delete posts after a certain period of time, it’s up there forever.

But this statement, while not from the horse’s mouth, was canonized by the horse’s jockey. Soto stated to Kotaku that all the backer did was re-post what Jeremy has said in the past, and she did so in exactly the condescending and unprofessional manner in which we’ve come to expect from a business who might, for instance, lack the professional courtesy to check with a client/partner before putting words into his mouth and posting fake statements as irrevocable official releases.

“It still rings true. All the Backer did was re-post what Jeremy has said in the past. Which is still true. What part do you want to understand? Are you a Composer that has ever tried to write a symphony?”

The kind of professionalism that results in never posting a followup notice that the previous one was an accident, or anything at all. The February post is the last update on the Kickstarter page, at no point did either party decide it might behoove them to say apologize for posting a completely misleading apology letter which, incidentally, also promises monthly updates to matter how big or small the achievements may be, a promise that was neither made nor kept by anyone affiliated with The Northerner.

I have been hard at work, and have failed to give timely updates, and I am very sorry for that. Going forward, I will be giving monthly updates, no matter how big or small my achievements in that time.

The best we can hope for is a PS by Soule at the end of a Facebook post.

P.S. the latest update on Kickstarter wasn’t from me but a fan. I agreed with the sentiments of what he said so the agency did post his words as an update (partially by mistake). But in retrospect, I am coming from a place of humility when I say I’m trying my best. You deserve that! Thank you again!

I’m going to reiterate this for emphasis: If you don’t follow Jeremy Soule on Facebook or happened to miss the end to this post, there is nothing official to indicate that this campaign update, the last update posted on Kickstarter, is completely fake. In ten months, nobody involved in this campaign has had the basic professional courtesy to take five minutes and post an clarifying update. Nobody; not Soule, not Soto, nobody. The kind of substandard communication that wouldn’t fly at an Elementary School bake sale is evidently enough for a six figure symphonic production.

3. Taking the Retro Computers Ltd Approach to Refunds

Soule rightfully acknowledges in this post that backers are angry and understands that some may want to back out at this juncture. And for those backers, Jeremy Soule wants you to know that he will accept your demands for a refund if you still don’t want any part of this charade.

“And for those who want to say goodbye and withdraw backer support, please know I will refund you without hesitation. Simply email refunds@maxsteineragency.com.”

Unless you email and and simply don’t receive a response. In past crowdfunding fraudsters articles regarding Retro Computers Ltd, one issue that seems to come up a lot is that RCL thinks it can get away with claiming that no refund is refused, a promise easily disproven when you have a list of customers who have been screaming about unanswered refund requests on Indiegogo for months on end, and yes Suzanne, I am still reading your Indiegogo page.

And Soule has been no stranger to this, in fact you can go on Kickstarter back to 2014-2016 and see the streams of customers complaining that they were sick of waiting and wanted refunds, only to be ignored until they caused a major public scene. Now obviously Jeremy Soule himself is not sifting through emails, slamming his fist on a giant deny button as he twirls his mustache, adjusts his monocle, and watches the angry Kickstarter peasants beg for their money while sitting on a throne made of said backer money. That’d be the job of the Max Steiner Agency Inc.

Good old Max Steiner Agency, and who else but Gloria Soto? In her statement to Kotaku, Steiner mentions that the, ahem, true fans are still on board and the rabble complaining on Kickstarter are mostly trolls who have already been refunded. Nothing to worry about, Soto is working with Kickstarter to get those ruffians pushed off.

“What I do know – is that we are receiving a lot of support from the true fans. Currently- The ones making noise are backers that I have refunded – have become trolls – which I am currently working with Kickstarter to get them removed from posting on our page.”

Best of luck with that, you can see how the “blame it on the trolls” technique has worked with the Vega+.

More recent posts on the Kickstarter page point toward refunds taking 3-5 months, if not longer, to process and be returned. Other more vocal backers have noted in the comments of being offered refunds in return for them to stop raising a ruckus in the backer comments section, which some have refused and others have accepted. Further reports from people are indicating that a number of refund requests are being approved but the backers still not seeing their money months down the line.

4. The HoloCOST of Doing Business

What would a story like this be without a good Holocaust analogy? If you answered “much better, thank you,” you would be correct. We’ve talked about his business, about his campaign, now let’s talk about Jeremy Soule the person. Jeremy Soule hates music piracy, he hates it so much that in his opinion it’s basically the worst thing since the holocaust with music creators being just like the Jews.

But don’t take my word for it, let Soule’s own argument convince you.

But forget the Pirate Bay… Piracy is now mainstream. Not since the Holocaust have we seen so many people of a select group forcibly stripped of their livelihoods in a public euphoria of false morals. As one who is of Jewish descent, I can say that I make this statement in a very narrow fashion, but there are similarities. Creators are being vilified, laughed off and treated with indifference by scary multitudes of people who care not for artists’ lives or liberties–let alone the concerns involved in the making of art. The new “norm” is being heralded as “liberation” from the “contrived” and “unfair” standards of fees and payments that have traditionally been worked out in a fair market society. Instead, this is the new unfair market society. The “Jews” in this valid analogy are creators. We are losing our homes, our futures and our ability to take care of our children. Laugh. I dare you. And unlike the streetlamp lighters, the world still needs creators!

I have nothing more to add to this.

5. The DirectSong Fraud Racket

So we know that Jeremy Soule hates people stealing music, but did you know he hates piracy almost as much as he evidently does actually delivering the music that he has sold?

You can find Soule’s music at his company DirectSong, a name you may be familiar with thanks to the fact that the Guild Wars community a couple of years ago was getting ready to launch a class action lawsuit against the service due to it being a gigantic fraud racket. DirectSong was founded by Jeremy Soule in 2005 and currently holds an F rating with the Better Business Bureau, and has effectively been labeled a scam by the communities for the games around which Soule composed and sold the soundtracks to.

DirectSong doesn’t sell physical products anymore, and that’s because of people who didn’t receive their physical discs for months if not years on end, some reporting never receiving anything to this day, with virtually no support from DirectSong on shipping or offering refunds. You can search DirectSong on Google and find hundreds of stories from people like this one, who ordered their Skyrim soundtracks and Guild Wars 2 and didn’t receive their product for upwards of three years. And while you’d think that delivering a digital album would be easier, DirectSong still managed to screw it up and delay delivery for months upon months, a feature as simple as providing a link.

Just take a gander at the customer support message provided to the left where DirectSong takes ten months to respond to a customer complaint about links and, wouldn’t you know it, the person delivering the flippant response is GLORIA! I have no idea if this is the same Gloria from earlier but we are all entitled to our dreams.

 

You also can’t buy Guild Wars 2’s soundtracks from DirectSong anymore, that job has been relegated to the possibly better suited for delivery folks at Amazon. DirectSong, meanwhile, has a 1/10 score on reseller ratings with most of the complaints mirroring the inability to ship product within a reasonable time and delaying orders by months into years.

Thankfully it looks like DirectSong knows how to deliver mp3 links within a timely manner, but let’s not put too much pressure.

6. But to wrap things up…

Late last month, Jeremy Soule announced via Facebook (not Kickstarter) that December 20th would mark the launch date of Northerner Diaries.

December 20th, 2017 is the release date for Northerner Diaries. Hope you enjoy!

Keep in mind that this is not in fact the launch of the symphony, but merely the vignettes of his ideas. The ones we were promised two years ago. As for the symphony that will soon be five years old, well there isn’t much news on that front. While falling far, far behind on your work for a Kickstarter campaign might not be as terrible as, say, the Holocaust or even music piracy, you would think that Jeremy Soule or the fine folks at the Max Steiner Agency would have come to learn the PR value of keeping your backers updated and not presuming that they follow you through third party channels.

For those who backed on Kickstarter and don’t read Soule’s Facebook page, they have no idea that the Northerner Diaries is supposed to come out this month, because nobody bothered to tell them. Nobody bothers to keep the primary source for backers, the easiest and most accessible resource to ensure that your message gets to the people who gave you money, are informed. It’s like Soule is on stage at a concert, and instead of using his microphone to announce his next song, he’s decided to write it on a slip of paper and hope the crowd passes it around to everyone.

And poor communication and an inability to deliver seems to be the staple of a Jeremy Soule business.

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