Carl Hitchborn is not your everyday man. While trying to make it in the music industry, the former baker swiftly found himself responsible for two of Britain’s most exciting new bands – Coasts and The Hunna. On the surface, each group’s rise to fame looked like a perfect indicator of British indie music’s newfound longevity, one rooted in the power of independent labels, perseverance and Carl’s very own success tactics. Behind the scenes, though, not all was as it seemed. Issues with major labels, financial troubles and a whole host of other occurrences blighted the careers of Coasts and The Hunna, resulting in the former’s split and the latter’s ongoing legal disputes with Hitchborn. As part of a special, two-part investigative piece into High Time and claims made against Hitchborn, Jack Parker spoke with the man himself to find out more about his business practices, the substantial sums of money he owes and why he believes he has the key to fixing the music industry. This uncut transcript is the first of two articles surrounding Carl Hitchborn, with the latter (a psychological analysis, due in May) featuring first hand accounts from the people who were once in Carl’s closest circle.
Hello Carl. You’re in LA now, right?
I presume you’re aware of the premise to this discussion?
Yep, I saw your tweets and Facebook posts.
Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about how you got started in the music industry and how your career progressed.
I got involved in music just coming up to ten years. I’ve spent some time learning about the industry, how it works, the different components, models and income streaming. Learning about how screwed up the industry is across every single aspect of it.
What struck you about the industry being screwed up?
Any model where the default is to fail is a screwed up model, especially when it doesn’t need to be that way. You have so much wastage, records that are made without any prior research or analysis into whether or not you have a vital product. You go and spend 150,000 pounds on making an album which doesn’t work, that’s not a very efficient way of doing things. It messes with artists’ lives; they sign a deal and they think they’ll have a great time ahead but then it turns out they’re not going to have a great time ahead. I think the model itself that major and indie labels have is one that isn’t very efficient. Everything is cut into slices, so you have different parties that control different parts of a business, which makes it difficult to get things done. Having different rights holders in each country, for example, just makes it worse. If you have a global major label deal, what actually happens is that you’re in a situation where each entity per country is a whole different label in itself with its own bosses and decision makers. You can have one territory that says yes, and then another that says no to the same project. There’s nothing you can do about that. I found this completely screwed up.
So that’s where you and High Time entered the picture then, yes?
I had a few projects before that, but yeah. I worked with two producers for a couple of years, just learning about the industry and working on different projects. I didn’t know anything about it so I just went into it learning about all these different aspects; I wanted to learn the ropes and get educated. I spent a couple of years doing that, and then I started working with Coasts. I met them in 2010, so quite a few years ago. They were the first project I properly worked on, but despite their potential as a band they had quite a few limitations. There was a project from Sheffield called The Spires, and their singer was a great frontman. The thing was, though, that he had a really great sales job where he was earning stupid money. He was earning a couple hundred thousand pounds a year in salary and he couldn’t take the sacrifice of going down to earning no money and trying to make it work. That was a bit of a shame, but as things progressed I met Coasts. They were the first project prepared to be committed, they focussed on getting product – the songs. They spent a lot of time doing that, and were very dedicated to getting that in place. Oceans was the song that came first, and we got things together at that point. I booked the first tour they did all by myself and then got an agent and started to build a team. We put out the first music in 2013, and momentum started building quickly. There was a lot of label interest when Oceans quickly caught fire, and at that point I had a good idea of how things worked. I started meeting A&R people, but I also still had a bakery business on the side. I was still running that, and I had fifty employees.
At the bakery?
Yeah, fifty employees at the bakery. I was running a business and I knew that while I was meeting these A&R people the frequency at which they changed jobs was high, so the periods for which these people were available wasn’t very long. I was reluctant to do a deal with a major at that point, and I didn’t really want to do one anyway because of what I’d learnt by analysing the industry. Coasts thought that the only way you could make it was with a major, so that was the situation then. We spent about a year building momentum and then in 2014 I met Christian Tattersfield. He was still the chairman of Warner at that point, and I got on really well with him. He was different to a lot of people I’d met, and he had perspectives which other people didn’t have. He was an entrepreneurial maverick and also one of the first people I felt I could work with. At that point I did a publishing deal with him for Coasts, and that gave the band enough money to live on for at least two years. It was a really good deal, and at that point I think it was one of the biggest publishing deals he’d ever done. I spent seven or eight months continuing independently as a label and building things up, and by the end of 2014 there was so much noise surrounding Coasts that I had to go with a major deal. I was sitting down with the chairmen of Warner, Sony and Universal in the UK and they all wanted to do a deal. I went with Warner in the end, as well as a licensing deal with Capitol in the US. That was the beginning of my career. I had a good idea of how labels worked, but it was really eye opening when I actually got into the system and saw it for myself. It was a very painful experience to see what these artists go through, and at one point I was going into Warner’s office on a daily basis trying to get people doing what they were meant to do. Just the basic things!
During the first phase with Coasts we progressed really fast and released more and more music, gaining more momentum. The audience was growing in and outside of the UK, and then after that we did the deal with Warner and Capitol. There are lots of stories I could tell you but which I won’t get into, but the situation really boiled down to everything suddenly being way slower than it was before we made a deal. It took so long to get anything done, and the first video alone was insanely expensive for what it was. It took so long to get it approved, I think ten people were in the chain for weeks before we could even get the budget approved. We kept getting lost all the way through and it was really a tough moment, because up until that point everything went fast and we had the funds to do things. The momentum dropped away while we were at Warner, and situation at Capitol was just as bad; there were lots of disputes between the two in regards to what should be done and what the strategy should be. It was really frustrating, and there were lots of debates over different videos and which songs we would release when. Warner and Capitol had their own ideas, and that affected Coasts’ momentum. The album was meant to be released at the end of 2015 but the label decided there wasn’t enough momentum, pushing it back six months. Some of the fans had already followed Coasts early on, so they were getting fed up with delays. The momentum died very quickly, and so at that point we actually got onto Radio One. They gave the band lots of thought, and with radio on board the label was really happy. We had two B-lists in a row, and the next song was supposed to go A-list. They had done Live Lounge too, but then I got a call from the head of Warner telling me that we’d hit the budget and can’t spend any more money. We were about to go A-list but we couldn’t pay radio pluggers anymore. We’d been fighting for so long to go to radio and then they pulled the plug – that was the beginning of the end for Coasts and Warner. We had momentum, and then they pulled the plug when things started to happen. At this point my label was Tidal Recordings, and I was about to get trademark on the label when Jay-Z brought out TIDAL.
Yeah, when I tried to trademark Tidal, my lawyer told me that someone else had registered it. Around two months later Jay-Z comes out with TIDAL streaming. At that point I changed the name and formed High Time Records. High Time was an evolution of Tidal. If you look online for a public record of Tidal you’ll find that it was still licensed to Warner. So we’d built momentum with Coasts, and then I had the big task of getting them out of our Warner deal. That took about six months, and by the end of 2015 I knew that they were not gonna be funded anymore. Once the album was released, Warner were happy to discuss things. I’d also been developing The Hunna for about eighteen months or so, and they had put a lot of effort into creating these great songs. They’d written a lot in that period of time, and by the summer of 2015 we got them working with Liam from Coasts, as well as a producer. He liked what they were doing, and so did Liam – in fact, it was Liam who actually identified the band when they played a show with Coasts in Harlow. Liam said they weren’t very good at that point, but that they had a lot of potential. It needed some work, so that’s when I started giving them advice on what they should and shouldn’t do. And they listened. When they were ready, we stepped things up and they got into the studio with Liam in Brighton. I remember every day they’d develop a song further; She’s Casual and Bonfire for example, a couple of the first songs they’d written. By the end of the summer of 2015 I was happy that we’d had a solid album we could build some momentum around. I was really not happy with the Warner situation, so I decided to use The Hunna as a way of showing the label what can be done and how it can be achieved if you actually do things in the right way. I’m gonna show you what can actually be achieved. It was October 2015 when Coasts played Shepherd’s Bush and other rooms. They’d gone from Barfly in March 2013 to playing Shepherd’s Bush, which is pretty good. We managed to keep the band alive even through the label problems. I invested a lot of money into advertising. I said to The Hunna that they were ready now, and at that point She’s Casual and Bonfire came out. I didn’t want to spent too much money on the production; we’d had good feedback on the demos but those two songs really stood out. We didn’t have conclusive evidence on which one would be bigger, but we just wanted to get them out into the marketplace. I sent the band down to Brighton and they improved the demos to a point where we were happy to release them. I wanted to use the money we could invest on marketing, so I was financially dry at that point. I was propping up Coasts and The Hunna, and the money we got from Warner wasn’t very much at all. The money I did have I was using for my bakery, so when it came to launching The Hunna I needed some money. I went out and got three credit cards, each with a 5k spending limit. I invested this into marketing and everything else is history. We built momentum and from then on every show was bigger, and we grew very quickly to the point where every show in London was crazy. We went from small shows with Coasts to a sold out Kentish Town Forum within a couple of years, the progression was crazy. From then onwards everything got bigger, we did all of the 1,500-2,000 venues and by the summer of 2017 we were in a situation where we could put Brixton on sale. That sold out and so we put a second one up, and then all of the other regional academies on top of that. We still had a lot of momentum up until the end of last year, when they decided that they’d go back into the old world and try navigate through all the shit they’re going to find coming their way.
What happened? Is High Time done?
It’s still there. The company still exists.
Do you still do anything with it?
I’m not going to do anything else with it. Here’s the thing: there’s a contract with The Hunna in place and they can’t just go and find a new recording contract now. There’s got to be a settlement and that hasn’t been sorted out yet.
So officially The Hunna are still part of High Time?
Yeah. There hasn’t been a termination of the contract; the contract still stands. Right now we have to go through lawyers and deal with that situation. That’s an ongoing legal thing which I’m not allowed to say too much about.
It’s a situation that has to get sorted out, you know. High Time will purely remain as an entity which owns the masters of the songs Coasts and The Hunna did. I’m not signing any more artists to the label, though. The Hunna have decided to do what they do, and there’s no way that there’s going to be a resolution from the point of view of moving together anymore. It’s just going to be a case of getting that wrapped up and doing what’s best for everyone.
What’s Lifted Republic?
Lifted Republic is an agency that I’ve got with a business partner in the US. Our goal with this is to focus on high level clients that mostly won’t be in the music industry; we have various clients who we work with on various strategies from marketing through to strategic planning and overall help in creating businesses.
How does this relate to the Artist Perfect Academy which you told me about last week? This was when you first postponed this interview.
The Artist Perfect Academy is separate, but as artists start to grow within the academy Lifted Republic will be there to serve a purpose for them. I’ve got the same business partner for the academy.
So are you trying to shift away from music altogether with Lifted Republic?
We’ve got various clients in different verticals. The fundamental principles are the same – you have a product that’s great and you have a brand which you want to frame for people. The principle is the same no matter what. There are some musical clients, but most aren’t.
I’m now moving on to the second half of this discussion, so thanks for the detailed introduction. I want to discuss High Time and the people involved with it. A few of these came forward to me claiming that you owe them substantial sums of money for work they did with or for you. I also have substantial proof of this, beyond emails and messages. What do you have to say about that?
Well, hang on. It’s very simple – there’s a legal framework [here] to recover money from anyone who owes you. A very clear legal framework. I don’t know who these people are and I’ve not had any court orders or legal notices coming in from these people. This is basic Business 101, you follow the framework. You don’t even need a lawyer, you can just go online and fill in a form. That’s it, you don’t talk to people, you don’t go to blogs and write about it, you go through the legal process required. I’ve been in business a long time and that’s how you do it, that’s it. Anyone who thinks there’s another way is an absolute fool.
Right. There are people who have won court claims against you, though, and are yet to receive payment.
They’re going to have to continue with that process. Like I said, there’s an entire process from going to court through to recovering the money. There’s multiple steps all the way through to winding up the company and liquidating assets. That’s how it works. And, by the way, I am actually owed substantial amounts of money from the company as well because I invested a lot of money in. I took out loans, got credit cards, some of which are in my wife’s name. That is all still owed to us. With The Hunna I put all of the money back in, I invested everything right up until the very end and I’ve been investing money back into that project. There’s a lot that’s owed to me and the company. Anyone that is owed money will be paid it back, as there are assets. It’s just going to take some time for it all to come through and set things straight. People will get paid, but there was still a considerable amount of investment from my side too. You can’t get these results without investing lots of money.
You have to invest. I did the opposite of what the label did and kept on investing, that’s why we had The Grove. The money that came in was all put back in, and for Facebook alone our investment was huge. In a year we put more money into Facebook than the whole of Warner did. We invested more money than the entire Warner roster. The Hunna sold out Brixton twice, as well as shows around the UK. Now, though, they played Brixton again and only sold it out on the night. They’ve gone from doing two shows to doing one which didn’t even sell out in advance. The momentum that we had was huge at High Time, all these shows around the UK and such. We had the o2 Arena on hold for the end of this year, booked and ready to do. That was the trajectory we were heading down. My goal was to do arena’s in the UK this year and worldwide next year.
So you think that – now you no longer work together – that won’t happen?
It’s already going backwards. We did 28,000 tickets in January 2018, but on this tour it’s a lot less tickets and they didn’t even sell them all. They couldn’t even sell shows in Birmingham. They’re working with a management company now who – eighteen months ago – came to me looking for help and consultancy on the things we’d been doing already. Social media and the like, because they don’t understand how it works. The management company they’re working with now is the same one who doesn’t know how to leverage the audiences that we’ve built over a longer period. Logically it’s gonna decline because they don’t know how to use the audiences they have. That’s what’s happening, there’s no way they could play an o2 Arena at the end of this year if they can only sell Brixton out on the day.
I just want to touch back on Coasts. They broke up last year, they had some difficulties behind the scenes and such. What went wrong?
Nothing went wrong per se. Liam, the guitarist, he’d been the driving force since the very beginning. He was the core songwriter and he really struggled with the fact that vocalist Chris wasn’t as committed to songwriting as he was. They definitely didn’t have the same vision, but despite his struggles they got through. Last summer they were working on a planned third album but Liam and Chris struggled to actually get songs together. I told Liam that this needs to change and suggested finding him a writing partner. This was for Coasts and nothing else, and it was basically a situation where I had a guy I’d known for a long time and who was a really great songwriter and producer. He could have helped the band move forward again, because Liam nor Chris were producers. I got Liam together with a guy called Edward Turner, and within a week of working together Liam called me to say it was incredible and that the unity they had was great. I told him that now was maybe the time that he drew a line under Coasts, and told him to focus on new projects. This happened fairly quickly, and I told Liam that he was sure of what to do. That was the end of Coasts, no other reason or intention to end the band.
So do you feel partly or at all responsible for the end of Coasts then?
Not partly, entirely. I am entirely responsible for the end of Coasts. It was me who told Liam he should end it, so yeah. I told him that he needed to stop banging his head against a brick wall and move forward with a new project, so I can hold my hands up and say that I made that happen. It was with the best intentions, because there were multiple band members in Coasts who had other things going on like marriage and life; they needed stability. They had to either go for it or draw a line under it, but I didn’t see them going for it as an option at all with the lack of product. There was a block on those products, and without stepping up there was no point. I worked with them for a few years and I’d met them in 2011. I’d been with them a long time, and they really needed to call it quits. It wasn’t through lack of trying, as they’d been together for probably two years before I met them. That’s a long time.
Did the risks outweigh the benefits for you?
If there’d have been a situation where they managed to continue then nope. There’s not enough hours in the day for someone like me to juggle two projects, especially when Coasts still needed a lot of work. We managed to get the momentum rolling when they released their second album post-Warner, but it was a lot of work and pay to get there. I saw too much pain ahead for them, and it made no sense to try and carry on given that these guys had all hit their 30th birthdays. They have degrees, they’re educated, there are other things they can do with their lives. Some of them have got jobs now – good ones, ones that they’re happy with. It was the best thing for them at that point. When Coasts got dropped, everyone told me to walk away from the band because they’re tarnished by the industry. This band were in the gutter and people told me not to invest anymore. I didn’t, I carried on.
Do you think investing in Coasts any more would have gotten in the way of The Hunna?
Yeah. If we’d have gotten the product together then I certainly had a mechanism ready to make things happen, but it was such a big if. If you’ve got two creators with a bond in the wrong place then it’s gonna be very difficult to create a good product. If they’d had the product then we could have built more on that momentum, it just wasn’t enough to justify going for it if the product wasn’t gonna be there. And if the overall unity was absent; there were too many factors going on. James, the bassist, was in a relationship and he was kind of fed up with it all. The thing with Coasts is that they’re not all writers; if they’re not touring then someone like James wasn’t doing much. There just wasn’t much he could do. James couldn’t contribute to the songwriting as he never had the initiative to do that, which made it hard for them as a band. It was just time to stop. James had just started working in either recruitment or IT, so it was the right time to end. As far as I’m aware Liam is working on a new project with Ed; I think it’ll be a great project because they’re super talented and share the same vision.
As you mentioned to me earlier, you’d seen my Facebook post. I’m assuming you’d have had the chance to scroll through some of the responses too.
Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. It’s the same old people, I know them all. There’s not anyone new in that list, yeah. There’s no one in there who wasn’t part of the equation before, or who had an opinion on what was going on. Most of them have never had proper jobs in the music industry or done anything of substance. They say that they have, but they haven’t.
Are you referring to anyone in particular when you say that?
Yes. There’s multiple parties who claim they’ve had employment with me who haven’t at all. Not even on the payroll.
Like freelancers, basically?
Yeah, people who never had a contract or were a staff member. They’ve had a job which they were paid for, and that’s it. Not an employee when they claim they have. [Note from the editor: a copy of an employment contract has been obtained by All Things Loud from one such freelancer in lieu of this claim]
I have the list here. Shall I count how many people? One, two, three, four…
I get that there are probably quite a number of people with things to say, obviously NAME REDACTED is one of those people.
I also know NAME REDACTED. They’ve never had a job with me. They had a task to sort some shows but that was it. That was a job they had as a freelancer, but when I said I didn’t need them anymore all hell broke loose. They went crazy.
I’m going to add here that said person went into a very dark depression after this.
I’m sure you know how booking agents work.
I’m just a journalist.
If you speak to any agent, you’ll know that those small shows have no meat on the bone. They got paid really well for the work they did, compared to any other agent. Others would not make anywhere near the money they made from this job. They got paid very, very well for the work they did and they were on a really good amount of money for the work they did. Every other agent got paid a commission from the fee that was paid. They did very well at High Time despite whatever they might say. That’s a fact.
Would you like to hazard a guess at who else came forward?
Yeah, sure. Probably NAME REDACTED. With them I’m not going to go into massive detail, but they probably cost us more $20,000 in incompetence. I could have sued them for some of the stuff they did. I employed them as a JOB TITLE REDACTED to take care of an entire tour in the US with The Hunna, and I’m sure you know that all tour managers have to co ordinate everything and make sure everything is sorted. This person got paid a good fee to be a JOB TITLE REDACTED, but once we got to the US half of the stuff they were meant to do wasn’t done. There were logistical errors, unbooked flights, mistakes, all sorts of things. In the end I withheld a portion of their fee, which wasn’t even that much compared to what they got paid and what we lost overall. I was gonna sue them but my business manager persuaded me not to as there was a lot going on at the time. I was so mad over this situation. Not only did they tell me that they were a competent JOB TITLE REDACTED, but they also got friends to back it up. They were the most incompetent JOB TITLE REDACTED I’d ever worked with, and there are a lot of them. They told me that they could do JOB TITLE REDACTED and that they knew what they were doing, but clearly they hadn’t, had they? Look man, the people I work with – like Christian Tattersfield – are great. Talk to Christian, he’ll back that up.
Christian didn’t respond to a request for comment.
He won’t. He’s a friend of mine, he’s focussed on trying to break big acts, not on tit for tat. That’s not what he does. Anyone that’s actually doing anything doesn’t get involved in tit for tat stuff like this. No one does, it doesn’t make any sense. You’re not going to gain anything from it.
Of course. So what compelled you to get in touch with me in the first place? Did you want to set a record straight?
You know, for me it’s good that you’re doing this and that you want to get a balance on this story.
Yeah. It’s all fair and well speaking to one side, but when the chance presents itself to speak to you about these things then I’m going to take that chance.
Yeah. There are not many other people out there right now involved with this story who are actually doing anything of substance with their lives. None of them have ever taken out loans and credit cards and put their lives on the line with these kinds of projects. All they’ve ever done is talk about it and attach themselves to stuff when they haven’t done anything. For me it’s not cool.
One member of ARTIST REDACTED did come forward.
NAME REDACTED. They got in touch.
THIS SEGMENT OF THE INTERVIEW HAS BEEN REDACTED FOR PRIVACY. I don’t know what they’ve said, but I’ll be surprised if it comes through.
Let me explain to you what I do here. Every now and then I pick a talking point, sometimes a controversial one, and I dig deeper. I’ve gone into this knowing next to nothing about you, blindly basically. All the stories surrounding you compelled me to delver deeper.
I don’t think that this is a big story at all, you know? It isn’t a big story. There are some big stories out there about people who are really getting fucked over.
Feel free to let me know.
The whole industry is fucked up, dude.
Better or worse than when you started out?
Of course. The situation now is no better than it was before. You’ve got crazy stuff that happens, stuff that doesn’t make any sense. It’s not going to get better, because the model has not evolved.
Yes, right. You’re now in LA, when did you move there?
October last year.
So when you see the things that people are claiming about you, the thousands of pounds owed, the behind the scenes situations, how does that make you feel as a person? Knowing that a lot of people are after you. Not as a businessman, not as a mogul, but just as you yourself.
What I would say is that I’ve got high moral standing on everything I do. I’ve always done what I feel is the best thing to do, and sometimes that means making a difficult decision. You’re not always going to please everyone. If you look at Coasts and The Hunna, both from a difficult genre but who still garnered reasonable success. The Hunna’s success was undisputed.
The streaming figures don’t lie.
You can even go to Pollstar, you’ll find a digital footprint of video footage, visual content, posters and such. You can’t make that up. I’ve always done what I felt was the right thing to do. Both these projects were absolutely nowhere. Nobody was interested in either of them at all, until I developed them and created really great results. Undisputed results, which I learnt a lot from doing. Now I’m on the journey to really make things happen, and that’s what I’m gonna do. I’ve got 129 artists in my academy from all over the world in every genre of music, from all different countries – 34 of them. Next there’s going to be success, it’s crazy. I couldn’t help them to have the success they have now without having done what I did previously. How to do stuff, now to do stuff.
That’s why you wrote a book.
That book is the seed. People can say what they like, but in the coming weeks video testimonials from my artists will go live talking about how I changed their lives in a matter of weeks. It doesn’t matter if people are hating on me or whatever else. If I have constant testimonials from people who are benefitting from my education and knowledge then it doesn’t matter what people think of me. I’m going to outweigh that hate with people who are grateful for it all. People hate me, and if you’re not stirring things up and creating stories then you’re probably not doing enough, you know?
I see what you’re trying to say.
What I would say is this: I’ve got people who I can rely on at the top levels of my circle, and I haven’t fallen out with anyone. There’s a lot of people that haven’t done anything and cling on to me and my fame, and they can say and claim what they like.
And it doesn’t affect you as a person?
It doesn’t affect me because I know it’s not true. I know what the truth is. I know what I’ve done, and I know what I’ve put in financially. I’m not gonna show you bank statements, you know?
I don’t need to see those anyway.
I still have considerable liabilities that I need to get paid back at some point in the future, but I can deal with it because I know that the benefit is not with Coasts, or The Hunna. The benefit is in the story, the knowledge. That’s where the real gain is, and you can’t take that away from me. You can’t take away the streams, the 60,000 first week sales, all of that. People can try and take me out if that makes them feel better, but maybe they should move on and make these kinds of things happen by themselves. If they think it’s that easy, then maybe they should go and max out three credit cards and take out loans. Do it yourself. If they think they’re able, then go for it. Nothing’s stopping them, I did it! That’s what I would say to people like NAME REDACTED, if you’re so great then do it. Also to NAME REDACTED, go set up your own label. If you’ve got that Midas touch then go do it! I know this person, and they never have had that touch. Still hasn’t set up their own label, still hasn’t done any of this stuff. Look at the facts, look at what people have actually done.
I think we’re going to round it up here. I know you said this wasn’t a big story at all, but I appreciate you taking out little over an hour of your busy morning to chat with me about it at such a great length.
Yeah. Look, there are a lot of big stories out there. My academy is coming together, and it’s a big vision. As I said in my book, I do this all to learn and build on what I’ll do next. I’d be very happy to talk to you in the future about lots of stuff, because there are things coming which will change the game. Good luck with getting this together, and if you have any more questions you need answering then feel free to ask me and I’ll gladly answer them.