NOTE: This is an updated version of an article which was initially published in 2019. Since then, we have received nearly 100 emails regarding Carl Hitchborn and his business dealings. It is due to this that we have chosen to keep this article online. The contents of this article is entirely truthful and based on documented evidence, private interviews and voice recordings. This article is furthermore devoid of any hint of defamation or slander. What you are reading is 100% the truth.
What does it take for a promise to become a lie? At what point does the world you’re in turn sour? And what do you do when you realise that you’ve been taken for a fool? These are just some of the questions people have asked themselves after their working relationships with Carl Hitchborn broke down at some point in the last five years. Carl Hitchborn is not your everyday businessman: he’s calculated and ruthless. We recently introduced you to former baker Hitchborn by means of an in-depth interview with the man himself, one in which he admitted to the responsibility of breaking up Coasts, put The Hunna on full blast and deflected all responsibility for the money he owes to former employees and freelancers. A sum which stretches into the six figures, and which spans multiple disciplines (among them photography, tour management and SFX). This interview – now offline – served as the first of a two-part piece about Hitchborn, and follows the release of his book From Zero to Record Breaker, a step-by-step on becoming successful in the same manner Hitchborn claims worked for himself.
Over the last two months, All Things Loud has spoken to former High Time Engine employees, freelancers and artists. Together with them, we’ve put together an analysis which uncovers the truth about Hitchborn and his business dealings. Using Randi Gunther’s When Promises Become Lies, we’ve pinpointed some of the key talking points which came up during the analysis.
The majority of Hitchborn’s work was built on the premise of agreements filled with hope, promise and success, but which were supposedly unclear or false. Hitchborn’s former right hand man, who wished to remain anonymous, recounts the way in which Carl went about scouting bands for High Time: “Carl would meet with bands and tell them to stop playing shows immediately. He would be sent demos, and in most cases I don’t think he even listened to them. Bands would go months without a reply, and some were out of the game for up to two years. It seemed to me that he just wanted to get rid of any bands who could compete with The Hunna or Coasts.“
Among the artists who fell foul of Hitchborn’s were New Motion. Speaking to All Things Loud, one band member stated that “he made a lot of big promises but was clearly not very good at keeping them“. When New Motion ended after fifteen years, they found themselves jobless and owed £2000 by Hitchborn in unpaid wages. It’s important to note that this is a common thread, but that Carl’s recent dissolution of High Time means that it’s highly unlikely anybody will be paid again. New Motion added that Carl “had a lot of big plans without the infrastructure to actually carry them out. That, coupled with false promises and an obsession with making money, means there’s no surprise it all failed“.
A former High Time community manager told All Things Loud – on the promise of anonymity – that Carl “didn’t always have the funds to pay everyone involved“, which resulted in unfunded tour buses and faltering press campaigns. Another former employee claimed that merchandise sold to people six months before she started “had still not been manufactured“. Said employee was also made a false promise by Carl: “I was told I would be hiring my own team shortly after starting”. This never happened.
She isn’t the only person to make these kinds of claims. One SFX freelancer told us that Hitchborn screwed his company over “for £12k in services on a tour. We paid our crew, but he didn’t pay a single penny and left for the USA. We got a successful court judgement against him, but the bailiffs were unable to obtain anything”. All Things Loud has viewed a number of court documents provided to back up these claims so as to guarantee that they are not baseless or false. Elsewhere, a freelance sound engineer – who has worked with a number of big names, including The Hunna – told us that “it’s hard to communicate with Carl when he ignores all your calls and emails“, adding that “he is the worst human I have ever met“. Nearly every interview with a former associate, employee or artist of Carl’s boils down to the same scenario: an inability to make clear agreements, built on neglected promises. Allow us not not forget that he fired a woman for being pregnant, and then dissolved the company to avoid paying her £18,000 (a familiar tactic; see High Time’s Companies House). Let us not forget that The Hunna’s entire UK tour went down in flames, without High Time so much as refunding a single fan. Proof? Just check TrustPilot. 20 fans can’t all be wrong, right?
Before Carl worked in music, he worked in a bakery. One former employee sent the following email to All Things Loud in the wake of this article’s first iteration: “Myself and my wife were his employees when he did his own parents over for their bakery. He owes me money, around £1200 in unpaid wages”. They added that Carl “can’t come back to the UK. The tax man wants him and he will get arrested as soon as he steps foot in the UK”. The final line of his email struck a chord with many: “He leaves debt and hate in his wake”.
According to a number of people we interviewed, Carl bears a “significant lack of remorse for what he’s done to people”. Whether it’s proudly declaring responsibility for ending Coasts (“I am entirely responsible”, as per the man himself), leaving New Motion jobless or leaving people in debt, he “does not seem to care all that much unless it benefits his own wallet”. In Carl’s book From Zero to Record Breaker, he encourages readers to uncover “the fascinating story of how he made history“, as told by himself. Sure, there was success, but at what cost? Besides, a 100% Bad rating on Trustpilot is mad in itself. Even if a lot of The Hunna and Coasts’ successes can be accounted for to an extent, it’s come at a cost. Not just financial, but also mental and physical.
This is where we’d like to introduce you to India Fleming, one of the many former associates who helped us bring you this article. Fleming was (and still is) owed a total of £3,409.59 by Carl for a number of things, among them wrongful dismissal, unlawful deduction of wages and breach of contract. Fleming has not been paid for her services (as of March 2021, nearly two years after this article first appeared), despite taking him to court and winning. As High Time has since dissolved, it makes the chance of ever being paid out even smaller. Close to zero, in fact. India ended up deep in debt after losing her job, house and everything she worked so hard for with Coasts. “I couldn’t afford to live“, she told us. Part of the reason behind Fleming’s sacking was a supposed drop in content engagement on Coasts’ social media channels, something personally refuted by the band. A quote from India about her unlawful dismissal, below the image.
“I remember crying at my girlfriend’s house when I found out. I rang Chris (Caines, Coasts’ vocalist) straight away, crying – he didn’t even know I’d been sacked. After speaking to Coasts and John Hire (tour manager), it turned out that nobody had said anything about me to High Time, and that their social media was performing better than it ever had. These excuses were all “debunked”, as Carl just couldn’t afford to pay me. He got Yaz [Narcin, ex-High Time COO & Fleming’s flatmate at the time] to sack me as it seemed the easiest option”. In part one of this piece, Carl told us that most of the people who had something to say about him never had a proper job in the music industry. India has since toured with Skunk Anansie and PVRIS, which is quite the achievement.
Fleming is not the only person to have entered a state of distress after working with Carl. One former booker – name redacted for privacy – recounted how Carl dismissed him not long after he had lost a loved one to cancer. “I had my dream job, and he knew how much I was going through. I went into a deep, dark depression” added this individual, who is still owed an undisclosed sum of money. He continues: “I booked a massive UK tour for Coasts and a few other acts. I created venue databases and contacts. Then, when I wasn’t needed anymore, Carl sacked me via text while on holiday. He made me believe we were doing things the right way. In reality, he and his wife were pocketing thousands” [Editor: Carl claimed at the time that the company also owed him and his wife substantial sums; the company has of course since been dissolved]. The aforementioned community manager, who was sacked on the same day, adds: “I thought I knew the guy well. I met his wife and kids, and I thought he was an honest guy“. Carl’s former right-hand man can relate to this, only finding out he’d been fired when his email address was deactivated, and access to artist social media pages restricted.
Two unnamed High Time employees only found out about their dismissals when their email accounts were deactivated. One of these, a customer service employee, told us that Hitchborn supposedly completely “broke her“. In the period shortly before High Time shut down, she was “working from 6am until I passed out“. This was at the same time that Hitchborn had retreated to the United States, refusing to refund fans for The Hunna’s cancelled tour. The aforementioned customer service employee sheds some light on this situation and how it impacted her:
“Messages were coming in from The Hunna, Coasts and High Time’s websites and socials – both comments and direct messages. Angry parents messaged us numerous times a day trying to get the answers that I couldn’t chase down. With the amount coming in, the woman above me had members of staff from other areas pitching in to reply to them all. Even then, we couldn’t get through them. Halfway through one day, I was logged out of all High Time accounts and directed to my own personal email to see that I’d been let go for having not lived up to the role. It was the biggest shit show I’d ever seen, and definitely not worth the anxiety attacks and pure exhaustion.“
Four others purported to be put through grave financial and/or mental turmoil after working with Carl, however not everyone wished to be interviewed. In the two years since publication, dozens more former employees and associates have come forward with similar stories. With initial publication in the spring of 2019, it’s worth noting that the most recent email – from a concerned musician whose drummer was about to hand Hitchborn thousands of pounds – came in February 2021. Members of Carl’s Artist Perfect Academy have also reached out, with one writing: “I recently bought his promising Artist Perfect Academy programme, but I’ve realised it’s a scam since it is not delivering what was promised”. Eight people reached out in between May and October 2019 in relation to the Academy.
Loyalty is an important thing to have when you work in an industry as dynamic as music (or entertainment in general). But if we’re to believe Carl’s former right hand man, there was no loyalty to be found: “There was no loyalty. I had always been told I’d be rich and driving a sports car to work one day, but that I had to wait for the right time“.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Enter Harry Seaton, the only person to come forward with a positive story. In an email to All Things Loud, Seaton offered to present a point of view he “doubts would otherwise be presented“. Seaton – who wrote a track for New Motion – signed with High Time when they were still called Tidal at the age of 17. In his email, he writes: “I was too young and naive to understand his vision and how his mind worked. I loathed that he had me writing 50 choruses before I could get back in the studio. I thought he was letting my existing audience go to waste.” Seaton was the only respondent who had something positive to say.
OCTOBER 2019 & FEBRUARY 2021: AN UPDATE
This article was initially written in the spring of 2019, and spent roughly half a year online as dozens upon dozens of people reached out to All Things Loud to share their own, similar stories. Earlier this month, all of that changed. Carl has not returned to the UK since the Hunna tour saga (and still resides in Los Angeles), where he runs his Artist Perfect Academy and other projects. He’s also written books, including the TikTok Bible. A legal threat emerged against each individual named in this article, with a libel lawsuit on the cards if the piece wasn’t taken down within a day. American activist Matthew Berdyck – who has since been banned by Facebook – claimed to have been paid $500 by Carl to send threats to the All Things Loud editorial team, evidence of which had since been deleted due to the accompanying email arriving in a spam folder. This was followed by a larger libel threat from Carl when confronted about Berdyck’s threats, which he stated he was doing on Carl’s behalf. This article was swiftly removed as options were explored, with a former member of Hitchborn’s Academy reaching out to say that his takedown threat was solely intended to hide negative press. This was confirmed by two fellow former Academy members (all three requested anonymity, and provided proof of their claims in the form of messages Hitchborn sent to Academy members. Carl had been sending screenshots to his students from the author of this piece once the article was removed, adding that he had been trying to convince his Academy members this article was fake. They also shared with us their own experiences, which included similarly threatening emails from Matthew Berdyck. “He called me a bitch and a loser for saying bad things about Carl”, she told us, also providing proof.
It’s important to understand that the respondents who form out part of this piece are only a fraction of the people we reached out to (and who reached out to us in the wake of initial publication); this article only scratches the surface. There are plenty more people with their own story to tell. Some did not have time to contribute to this piece, whereas others declined due to a mix of personal and legal reasons. A number of people have reached out in the time since this article first appeared, but as it stands a third part is not on the cards. There is also a very telling email from Carl’s sister which has not been included but tells a harrowing personal story. When approached, Carl deemed his sister as lying. “My sister has problems“, he said.
What can we take away from this, though? For one, we can conclude that there is more to Carl than meets the digital eye. Will anything happen to him – a “master manipulator” as per two former employees – in the near future? Probably not. If he’s able to evade authorities and bailiffs like he has done for years, then it looks like he’ll be rolling out his business dealings wherever an opportunity will present itself. Some may call him a master of business, but plenty more beg to differ, and these stories should be telling enough. We leave you with this quote, from an anonymous contributor, which has since been backed up by a member of his direct family: “Carl is a criminal who will be behind bars very soon”.
Head to this link to read a detailed account on working with High Time by photographer Katy Cummings. Interview transcripts and documented evidence are no longer available to view following privacy concerns.
This article is built on more than a dozen interviews conducted with former High Time employees and freelancers. All views presented are of those interviewed and do not present the views of the author. All the claims made in this article are based on documented evidence and do not serve as slander, unfounded accusations or anything else.