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 by a man with more power in his hands than he can control? These are are just some of the questions many will have asked themselves after their working relationships with infamous music manager Carl Hitchborn broke down at some point in the last five years. For you see, Carl Hitchborn is not your everyday businessman. He’s calculated, he’s ruthless and – to put it bluntly – in more denial than you can even begin to fathom. 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 blast and deflected any and all responsibility for the money he owes to tons of former employees and freelancers. A sum which stretches into the six figures, and which spans multiple disciplines (among them photography, tour management and special effects). This interview 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 how to on becoming successful in the same manner as Hitchborn himself. Or at least, the manner he wants you to believe works best.
What kind of man is Carl Hitchborn, really, though? Over the last two months All Things Loud has spoken to countless former High Time Records employees, freelancers and artists. Together with them, we’ve been able to put together a detailed character analysis which uncovers much of the truth about Hitchborn and his shady business dealings. He may seem like a successful businessman if you look at streaming figures and record sales, but if you dig that tiny bit deeper – as we do today – you’ll discover the real Carl Hitchborn, as told by those closest to him. Allow us to detail exactly why Hitchborn fits all the characteristics of a pathological and compulsive liar through guidelines loosely adapted from Randi Gunther PhD’s When Promises Become Lies.
Let’s start with an aspect many will relate to, one which anyone who has dealt with Hitchborn will understand pretty well: unclear agreements. The majority of Hitchborn’s work was built on the premise of agreements filled with hope, but which ultimately found themselves to be unclear, false or both. 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 intentional ignorance and unclear agreements was 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 of hard work and perseverance, they found themselves jobless and owed £2000 by Hitchborn in unpaid wages. The anonymous band member we spoke to 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 that Carl “didn’t always have the funds to pay everyone involved”, which resulted in unfunded tour buses and failing press. Another employee claimed that merchandise which had been sold to people six months before she started “had still not been manufactured“. Said employee was also made another false promise by Carl: “I was told I would be hiring my own team shortly after starting, but then I noticed it was all dodgy”. Does that sound familiar?
She isn’t the only person to make these kinds of claims, unsurprisingly. One SFX freelancer told us that Carl 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 to the USA. We got a successful court judgement against him, but the bailiffs were unable to obtain anything.” Furthermore, 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 rather bluntly that Carl Hitchborn “is the worst human I have ever met”. Harsh words for a harsh situation, only made harsher by what a member of a large High Time band told us per email: “I hate the fucker”. In fact, almost every interview with a former associate of Carl’s boils down to the same old story: he is unable to make clear agreements, yet builds them on false promises which he proceeds to a) cling on to or b) neglect. Let’s not forget that he fired a woman for being pregnant, and then dissolved the company to avoid paying up £13k. Let’s also not forget that he allowed The Hunna’s entire UK tour to go down in flames, without so much as refunding a single fan. But more on that later.
LACK OF REMORSE
Carl bears a significant lack of remorse for what he’s done to people, if you haven’t noticed already. Whether it’s proudly declaring responsibility for ending Coasts (“I am entirely responsible“), leaving New Motion jobless or putting people in debt, he does not seem to care all that much unless it benefits his own wallet. A wallet which might actually be a whole lot emptier than he wants people to believe in his book, From Zero to Record Breaker. In this book, Hitchborn encourages readers to uncover “the fascinating story of how he made history“, as told by himself. We’re not sure if this history includes how to earn a 100% Bad rating on TrustPilot, though. Of course it’s safe to assume that large chunks of the book are blown out of proportion, and 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 people with whom we worked on bringing you this piece. India 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. To this day, Fleming has not been paid for her services, despite taking him to court and winning. She did, though, end up in debt after losing her job, house and everything she worked so hard for with Coasts. “I couldn’t afford to live“, she tells us. Part of the reason behind Fleming’s sacking was a supposed drop in content engagement on Coasts’ social media channels, something subsequently 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 to 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] to do his dirty work and sack me as it seemed the easiest option”.
India 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 believed to be in the thousands. He continues: “I booked a massive UK tour for Coasts and a few other acts. I created venue databases and contacts, et cetera. 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“. 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 can relate to this, claiming that he only realised he’d been fired when his email address was deactivated, and access to artist social media pages deactivated. He wasn’t the only one to find out this way.
Two unnamed High Time employees only found out about their dismissals when their email accounts were also deactivated. One of these, who worked in customer service, claimed that Hitchborn completely “broke her”. In the period shortly before High Time went bust, she “was working from 6am until I passed out“. This was at the same time that Hitchborn had essentially gone off the radar, refusing to refund a single fan for the cancelled tour tickets. 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 shitshow I’d ever seen, and definitely not worth the anxiety attacks and pure exhaustion.”
Four other people claimed to be put through grave financial and/or mental turmoil following a working relationship with Carl, however they did not have the time to take part in this piece.
DELUSION OF GRANDEUR
The Cambridge Dictionary defines delusion of grandeur as “the belief that you are more important or powerful than you really are”. A good, modern day example of this would be someone like Berlin, a psychopathic character in Netflix drama Money Heist, a show which revolves around stealing money. Ironic? Because if it isn’t already evident, then allow us to confirm it for you once and for all: Carl Hitchborn is in a state of grand delusion, and it doesn’t look like he’ll escape it any day soon. All you need to do is take a look at the statements and messages surrounding his new book for it to become apparent.
But why is Carl in such a state? Does he genuinely think he is so high above everyone else that he doesn’t actually need anyone, or is he afraid? If we’re to believe his former right-hand man, then it’s the former: “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”. These final five words – “wait for the right time” – not only slot nicely into Carl’s delusions of grandeur, but they also tie in to the hundreds of false promises he made to people.
Carl is a Yes Man. Not the Jim Carrey kind of Yes Man, but one whose greedy fascination with success and money allows him to create false promises to an extent that he may even believe them himself. Hence the delusions, of which there are many. It’s not that Carl wants to say no to the next big band, big deal or opportunity; rather, he’s reluctant to do anything else as it’s of his own belief that he is above everyone else. When you’re a walking grand delusion, there really is no turning back.
IT’S NOT ALL NEGATIVE, THOUGH
It’s not all doom and gloom. Enter Harry Seaton, the only person to come forward with something positive to say about Carl. In a voluntary email to All Things Loud, Seaton offered to present a point of view he “doubts would otherwise be presented”. And he’s right. 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.” As we all know by now, there were definitely a number of artists whose existence did go to waste. For Seaton, though, it resulted in only happy memories. This positive outlook on Carl is one represented by not a single respondent, which begs the question: has Carl changed for the worse over time, or was it all a front he put on while finding ways to milk the cash Coasts and The Hunna raked in?
OTHER OBSERVATIONS & IRREGULARITIES
At the start of May, All Things Loud received an email from an anonymous source concerning Carl’s legal status now that he resides in California (“living between AirBnb’s”, as per a separate respondent). The emailer, who we’ll call I Spy For Justice as per an alias request, detailed Carl’s entire living situation in multiple emails which – using a mail tracker – were sent from various American cities throughout May. The first email, sent from Santa Clara, CA, claimed that Carl was “not doing what he should as part of his Visa in support of an Artist”. This artist turned out to be pop singer Kiesza, who you may know through smash hit Hideaway. Elaborating, I Spy For Justice – who claims to know Carl through living in the UK – later outlined (while in Clifton, NJ) how Carl set up three businesses with Kiesza, but that their business partnership has fallen through since arriving in America. That’s where Carl’s new Artist Perfect Academy comes into play. In order for Carl to prove he is worthy of an O1 Visa, he must be supported by someone also in possession of said Visa. This is where the legal waters become muddied, as I Spy For Justice explains:
“The Visa becomes invalid if they no longer work together. This is why, in my belief, he’s an illegal alien in the USA. He’s trying to cover his back by doing this Artist Perfect Academy and showing that he has a special talent in writing books so he can apply for an O1 Visa. The only way Carl would have been able to get an O2 Visa would be if the artist [Kiesza] supported the application. For an O1 Visa this is also required. It seems dodgy that Carl and Kiesza have set up three businesses together, with neither at the time living in the USA but wanting to go there.”
Our last contact with I Spy For Justice placed them in New York. Of course, we cannot 100% verify the claims made in the multiple emails we’d been sent by one individual, but there are certainly questions worth asking. Where there’s smoke there is always fire, and when those flames start to surge you’ll find that Carl Hitchborn has nowhere left to run. As I Spy For Justice puts it, “he doesn’t want to be found by the taxman!”
SO NOW WHAT?
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; this article barely scratches the surface, and there is more than enough information left to roll out at least two more analyses of this scope. There are dozens upon dozens of people who Carl Hitchborn has wronged one way or the other, to varying degrees of financial and mental turmoil. Some of these did not have time to take part in this character analysis, whereas others declined due to a mix of personal and legal reasons.
What can we take away from this, though? For one, we can conclude that Carl Hitchborn is the human equivalent of an iceberg: superficial on the outside, with far too much under the surface for anyone to comprehend. Will anything happen to Carl – a “master manipulator” as per two former employees – in the near future, though? 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. It doesn’t matter where in the world he’ll end up, because it’s in Carl’s nature to slither into any situation and reap his own benefits. Like a snake. Some may call him a master of business, but plenty more beg to differ. We leave you with this quote, from an anonymous contributor: “Carl is a criminal who will be behind bars very soon”.
Full transcripts of selected interviews, as well as some legal documents, are available on request from the author. Email him here. Head to this link to read a detailed account on working with High Time by photographer Katy Cummings.
This article contains elements of When Promises Become Lies, originally written by Randi Gunther PhD for Psychology Today in June 2017. 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, unless made clear otherwise.