There was a time—back when bell-bottoms were in and Stevie Ray Vaughan was just catching on—that Dallas was a key cog in the music industry. Because of the city’s central location, several major labels kept distribution warehouses here. Musicians would drive into town, fill their vans with records, and play a show before they left. But as interest in vinyl dwindled, so did Dallas’ clout.
Now Dustin Blocker and his Hand Drawn Records are bringing it back.
The vinyl biz is surging again. A decade ago, sales were only around 1 million; this year, Deloitte is projecting the vinyl record industry to move more than 40 million units. But manufacturing is bottlenecked. There are only 30 or so vinyl manufacturers in the world, and most of those use equipment from the ’60s. The last record-pressing machine was built in 1981. These old machines are so unreliable that of every 1,000 records pressed, 300 to 400 end up in the recycling bin. Between mastering, pressing, and packaging, it can take up to six months for a musician to get his or her LP on a merch table.
Blocker—a Dallas musician who wanted to get off the road but stay in the business—founded Hand Drawn Records in 2011. He had spent a few years producing albums for other artists, then started brokering vinyl deals, and saw up close the giant flaws in the system. He became determined to open a new facility. “I was calling people and drawing specs to make my own machines,” he says.
Around that time, Blocker and the Hand Drawn team met Rick DeVincent, the head of an Addison packaging business. A musician himself, DeVincent has an instrument- and incense-filled music studio attached to his corporate office. He offered Hand Drawn a corner of his 80,000-square-foot warehouse to use once they found machines.
Finally, more than a year into his search, Blocker came across an article on Viryl Technologies, a Toronto startup founded by music-enthusiast engineers. The company’s machine, an automated device called Warm Tone, was only in the prototype stages. “We literally found them first and took a gamble on purchasing two machines,” Blocker says, noting it was “a bold move on our end.”
It took another year of build-out and testing, but Hand Drawn finally started pressing in Addison in January, becoming the first plant in the entire world to operate fully automated vinyl-pressing machines. Viryl’s rig is four times faster than vintage models, pressing records in 22 seconds, with less than 1 percent ending up in recycling. Hand Drawn estimates it will churn out 1.8 million vinyl records a year, maybe more as engineers tweak the system. And because the plant is located inside a packaging center, the records only have to travel a few dozen feet to get wrapped and shipped out. The turnaround time, from initial order to merch table, is four to eight weeks.
Hand Drawn now has labels with albums on the Billboard Hot 100 coming in for tours of the facility. Production is ramping up. That spotlight that dimmed back in the ’90s? It’s starting to flicker to life again.