Vinyl is back, baby. With artists like Jack White, Adele and Taylor Swift selling tens and even hundreds of thousands of albums in the old-fashioned physical format, vinyl is enjoying a true renaissance. In Dallas, however — in fact, in all of Texas — there is but one plant that presses vinyl: A&R Records. But that's about to change, thanks to Dallas label Hand Drawn Records.
Hand Drawn is ready to break new ground with old format: their presses will be the only fully-automated ones in the world when they begin operating in late fall or early winter at a 10,000-square-foot facility located in Addison.
"We’ve seen a lot of pain points that happen from the customer end," says Hand Drawn's creative chief officer, Dustin Blocker. The label has been brokering vinyl for 18 months now, but it was being pressed by A&R, which was purchased by Josey Records in October 2015. "When the spindle is too tight and the record can’t come off the turn-table, the record is warped or scratching, there’s noise artifacts, all kinds of things that are warping and bowling that have to do with temperature or the kind of PVC you use, virgin versus recycled."
So he and Hand Drawn's vice president of business development, John Snodgrass, decided to take matters into their own hands. There was clearly room for opportunity, as there are only 15 to 20 plants currently operating in the United States. Vinyl sales were booming, but the technology for manufacturing viable presses was lagging. For a while it looked like Blocker and Snodgrass would sign a deal with German start-up Newbilt, which has been commissioned by Jack White’s Third Man Records to open a pressing plant in Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood, for the manufacturer of the presses. But then Blocker saw a blog post on Toronto-based Viryl Technologies' website advertising their new automated presses.
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"[That was the] 'oh shit' moment," says Blocker.
The automated system offers added precision which, according to Viryl CEO Chad Brown, not only means a better listening experience but also makes for a more efficient manufacturing process. "[We can] manufacture three records in one minute, versus the traditional one per minute," he says. That could come in handy, given the label's stated goal of pressing 1,000,000 records per year.
Hand Drawn's hope is that the majority of their customers will come from North Texas, though with those production goals they'll need to draw on customers from elsewhere. The label's "home base" list — which includes many artists that are already associated with the label — are John Kirtland of Kirtland Records (Sarah Jaffe and the Toadies), Salim Nourallah, Brandon Callies from Austin, Nathan Adamson of Deep Ellum's Ferralog Recording Studios and Andrew Tinker of Denton's Big Acre Sound.
"One of our goals is to be very forthcoming with artists, record labels, brokers — whatever — and educate and pull back the curtains,” says Blocker, a former musician who played in the band Exit 380. Specifically when it comes to ordering units, Blocker encourages full transparency: “You want a great record? Make a 140-gram black record.”
As Blocker sees it, the appeal in producing — and, more importantly, buying — vinyl is simple: “It’s the cool factor." He and Snodgrass admit that they don’t know what will become of the vinyl industry in the long term. But Hand Drawn Records will soon have the unique capability to uphold the human factor of music consumption while melding cool with quality — and all on their own terms. “When it’s on a vinyl record," Blockers says, "it’s finally finished.”