A stack of freshly pressed vinyl records at Hand Drawn Pressing's new manufacturing facility in Dallas. (©Michael Holtberg)
In an undeniably digital age where media is compressed, streamed and uploaded to YouTube, the outlier is the humble vinyl record, which went from being the industry standard in the ‘60s and ‘70s to a permanent resident of thrift shops and used bookstores. Today, however, the analog medium is more popular (and more profitable) than it’s been in decades. Vinyl sales made more money than advertising from free digital streams in 2015, and Forbes projects that vinyl will be a billion dollar industry by the end of this year, with sales slated to grow by 55 percent through 2020.
“The demand is getting crazier,” said Dustin Blocker, co-founder of local music label Hand Drawn Records and chief creative officer of the label’s new vinyl manufacturing facility, Hand Drawn Pressing—and not just for records. “Needle sales are the highest they’ve ever been since 1974, and turntables were the No. 1 gift item on Amazon last Christmas.”
Nevertheless, most records today are made on outdated equipment. But not those pressed by Hand Drawn, which are manufactured on Toronto-based Viryl Technologies’ Warm Tone presses—the most advanced in the world. The high-tech machines can chop the current average fulfillment lead time from six months to six weeks, and press record in about 30 seconds. So far, Hand Drawn Pressing has manufactured “Duende,” the new album from Texas’ own Band of Heathens, as well as re-issues of the label’s own releases and artists, but John Snodgrass, VP of business development for the label and the plant, said new orders are starting to pour in from major labels and indie artists alike.
For those skeptical of the high-tech machines, it’s important to note that the process for making a record is virtually the same as it was 50 years ago: It begins with tiny pebbles of PVC that are heated, shaped, pressed and cut into the 12-inch format that’s become so popular again. “[They’re] still made by humans ... and there’s a lot of TLC involved,” Snodgrass said. “Fortunately, it’s just a much quicker process with a lot less waste and a lot less human error.”
Snodgrass said that perhaps most importantly is the unrivaled sonic quality of vinyl, especially from a Warm Tone: “[It’s] the closest you’ll get to what it sounds like when you record it in the studio—that’s why all musicians want it.” Blocker added. “Every time, it’s like a new piece of art.”
This especially goes for artists like local up-and-comer Charley Crockett, whose soul-infused, Texas blues sound has captured the attention of local music fans and radio stations (including NPR Music). "His fresh take on blues was built for vinyl," Blocker said in a press release.
A musician himself, Blocker stumbled upon a business opportunity after discovering the aches, pains and murky industry jargon associated with ordering LPs of his own band’s recordings. As a result, if you have the technical chops to order a pizza online and some music for an album, you can easily place an order via Hand Drawn Pressing’s streamlined process: Send in the audio files and artwork, pick your vinyl color(s) and jacket style, add a few bells and whistles and voilá: Freshly pressed in record time.
For the vinyl version of Crockett's sophomore album "In the Night," which was manufactured by Hand Drawn Pressing, keeping it simple was key: "Making a classic black vinyl was important to me, especially with my sound," he said. (Only 500 units were pressed of limited edition record, which is available for purchase at Spinster Records in Oak Cliff.)
Add to the audiophile-approved quality of vinyl the facility’s location, conveniently located within a local printing/packaging warehouse (which also happens to have an intimate recording studio on the same floor), and you’ve got a one-stop-shop for managing production and quality from start to finish—and the ability to “spread the message of North Texas” musical talent.
“Certainly right now our focus is on the plant and delivering the best quality records from a sound perspective,” Snodgrass said, “but we love the artists we have and we don’t want to give up on the label.” After all, Hand Drawn Records was founded on a collective passion for music and the concept of nurturing creativity within the local community, Blocker noted. “We see the pressing as an extension of that.”