Hand Drawn Pressing Fulfills The Vinyl Needs For Local Artists
While CD sales drop rapidly each year, vinyl sales continue to increase quickly becoming a musician’s favorite way to get their music in the hands of their listeners. Even though the demand for vinyl is back, the technology to produce the records hasn't caught up, with most artists being forced to uses presses made in the ‘60s. With so few options, local independent artists are sometimes waiting on average 18-24 weeks to get their album pressed to vinyl. All of that is about to change very very soon, as Hand Drawn Records recently purchased the most high-tech, state-of-the-art presses in the world and they are bringing them to North Texas.
Taking out any opportunities for mistakes Hand Drawn’s new pressing plant will feature two high-tech record presses and in-house design and packaging team to really create a one-stop shop for local artists. Before the launch of their new plant, we sat down with Chief Creative Officer, Dustin Blocker, and John Snodgrass, VP Business Development, to hear their vision behind this new project and what it will mean to the local music community.
Why did you initially start Hand Drawn Pressing and how did it lead to this new pressing plant?
So initially, we started Hand Drawn Pressing to make it faster and easier for the artist. Independent artists, which we champion and which we are, can't get press time. Some artists are waiting six months to get the projects. If you were to look at a manufacturing website for pressing vinyl it's very confusing, it’s like, here are a million options. You get the spreadsheets and calculators thinking, how much does this cost? I'm not a genius, I just know that I need it and I need this many copies. So initially that's all Hand Drawn Pressing was doing, making it very simple. I.e. here is everything they're getting in a package, here's what you see on the shelf, we'll make up this for you and it will get to you faster.
What we found out from working with all these other pressing plants is there are a lot of quality issues and turn times are still not what we wanted. So we said, how do we just do it ourselves — this is getting ridiculous. So we bought the first new machines in the world. A new pressing machine hasn't come out since 1981, the last one ever made. So when vinyl started dying off they stopped making pressing machines and they stopped making press plants. So the pressing plants that lived through the 90’s when vinyl was dead, came back out the other side and they shoestring stayed alive. So out of the ones that are manufacturing today, most of the machines are from the ‘60s.
So you've got all these 1960s machines and everything is breaking. They weren't made to run 24 hours a day. All of the sudden the demand comes up and the you're using pipes that are breaking, molds are bending, and the water is spraying. It's unbelievable, hydraulic grease is everywhere. I mean no wonder it's six months, it's like an old auto shop.
What new technology has come out to make the process quicker on this new machine?
So essentially there's an R&D company that said, let's make this vinyl press. They knew the process because they used to own the old machines. The owner went away for a decade and started building machines for medical companies, big high tech crazy cancer machines, and said, “I am going to apply that to making the best record press ever”. We're the first people to buy them and work hand-in-hand with them on every piece to make it come to fruition. So what they've long and short have done is instead of using relay systems and steam valves, it’s a computer system running it all. So it's still handmade. Every product is handmade and hand quality. Which is what pulls us in as artists. It's not just CDs being duplicated, every record is still different. It's bringing in high technology to a low tech process.
It's a more efficient way. Records have always been made the same way. We just got it down to a way that we can have less yield loss, (under 1 percent versus 30-40). This ultimately comes down to when an artist gets a bunch of bad records, which happens out there. We want to do away with that. This is a way to do away with that plus decreasing the return time. In six months, we think we're really going to get down to eight weeks or better, maybe even in six weeks.
How large is the record-pressing facility and what are your plans for that space?
So the facility itself is 80,000 sq ft, and the space we're taking up is 10,000 sq ft. And whats great is, we partnered up with a huge print company. So what we talk about on the artist side of it and what we're interested in, is how are we going to sell it.
It's really cool to do colored vinyl with crazy splatters, we all know that. But that means that the person buying it would have had to cut up the shrink wrap, open it and look at it and go oh this is colored or read about it online somewhere. So what we always say to artists is let's make the packaging with really bad ass die cuts or cool box sets because those will move your units. So when we we talked about launching we thought how do we really bring that to fruition? So we brought these huge print print guys on. We get to utilize some of that which is huge for our end, so it lets us be laser focused on making this a really great record instead of how it is getting to the sleeving.
So I read that right now there are about 15-20 vinyl presses in the U.S. that are still operating. Do you know how many record presses were operating in the heyday of vinyl? How does your production with the new technology compare to the older models?
It's interesting. So there's not a number on how many pressing plants there were. I think at its peak in 1972, it was something around 270 million records sold that year. Last year about 40 or 50 million were sold. So apples to apples, last year that was not even 25% of that, so that means the plants, we think, used to be in the numbers of 100-150 plants.
Our machines are four times as efficient, so we could have opened up with eight old machines, but we are trying to keep running. You can have two new machines and probably do better with two new machines. We're not trying to pitch ourselves as the fanciest or the deepest pockets or the biggest in the world. What we are is quality first, and we're going to start with these machines. You could say it's two, but we actually do the work of eight.
In our initial numbers we thought we'd do about a million records. We actually have raised everything in with the new projection to almost 1.8 million. That's actually holding back, it's ridiculous.
How will this new pressing plant effect local artists?
The big thing with us again is, it's artists and quality first. We're not trying to do 30 machines and be the biggest in North America. We've been really realistic to say that we're going to hold back at least 20 percent of our capacity for our Independent Artist because that's where we've come from. And the big things that we've heard from artists is: one about lead times — that’s if they'll even take your order with other manufacturers — and two, that even indie labels that are pretty big, get squeezed out by these major artists, which are the Adele’s and Taylor Swift’s of the world. We want the artists. We want the community of North Texas and the Indies. We want these people knowing that we're here for them and there is going to be space.
What are your long term goals for Hard Drawn Pressing?
Our partner on the print side is a big music guy, so we have a really cool studio there for listening parties or album signings. The reality is we want artists there, we want to see the process, and we want artists to pick up their amp and rip a guitar lead. That would be cool and have everybody come in and get signed copies as they come off the presses. And most of that can be local artists.
I mean we do have a phase 2 and phase 3. We want Hand Drawn Records to exist sort of as an umbrella that has a lot of different offerings for the music community and again championing North Texas. I think right now we were really focused on pressing and we're continuing to keep our label alive because we're very proud of it.
How do you see Hand Draw Records fitting into to Dallas’s growing music scene with this new press?
There are other labels in town and we don't see ourselves as competition. We want to make buddies with everybody because the scene is awesome, but it's segregated. The market is so large and has really great venues, so many great record stores here now. If we can do anything to shine a spotlight on the area than let's do that. And that's why Hand Drawn exists. Pulling into the record side or into pressing side all makes sense. You know it's not competition, it's art. Art should be shared and you should work to elevate each other.
The first project we're pumping out when our presses land in Addison is a compilation of North Texas based artists, The Texas Gentlemen actually have two cuts on there, Charley Crockett, Vincent Neil Emerson, Cut Throat Finches, Andrew Tinker, Luke Wade, and others. We're doing this whole cool-box set, all free you know we're giving away we're not selling these. It is just a love letter to North Texas.