The State-Of-The-Art Addison Vinyl Plant Hand Drawn Pressing Became Busier Than Ever In The Pandemic. The Company’s Chief Creative Officer Explains Why.
Beyond pressing records for clients far and wide since 2014 (not to mention locals like State Fair Records, Good Records and the DFW Legacy Series), the company is also at the forefront of the industry from a communication standpoint, having just launched the Vinyl Record Manufacturers Association of North America in early 2020.
Of course, a lot has changed over the course of the last year thanks to the pandemic. And we wanted to know just how much things changed from Hand Drawn’s perspective these past 12 months.
To find out, we recently caught up with Dustin Blocker, the company’s chief creative officer and a longtime local music scene fixture from his time leading his band Exit 380. He was kind enough to walk us through how Hand Drawn has weathered the awfulness of the pandemic, how they bounced back from the initial dips in revenue and why they’re already slammed with work until at least the end of this year.
From a business standpoint, was Hand Drawn affected by the pandemic that much?
In March 2020, basically overnight, about 90 percent of our business disappeared. That continued for, I’d say, about eight weeks. The one thing about the vinyl manufacturing business is there’s a long lead time on everything — about six to eight weeks. During that eight-week buffer, we were able to limp into July with some jobs we had booked earlier on in the year.
Then artist managers realized that tours weren’t going to happen, so they started looking at new revenue streams. What really happened then was they went, “Well, vinyl is going to be a good steady income for us, so we need to start ordering.” That began around July, and it started really picking up steam as we hit September and October. That really got insane as we hit December and January.
Now, the way it’s looking, our business is the strongest it’s ever been — and it’s not just us. The entire vinyl record industry has four- to six-month lead times, and we’re included in that. We’re actually booked into November, and solid all the way through September.
The pandemic has actually affected us in a positive way. We’ve been able to grow our team. We’re trying to add more presses, and even grow the team more as we go into the summer. It’s been a crazy rollercoaster. Vinyl seems to keep beating the odds in every way.
What kind of safety measures do you all do now in the plant now? Wash down stuff? Sanitize everything?
Exactly. One big nugget is that our facility is locked, and always has been. It was always by appointment only. People couldn’t come by for tours. Our staff was already kind of small, so we got to stay the same. Our production staff wasn’t really in tight corners anyways, so masking, hand-cleaning and hand-sanitizing was pretty easy. Anything our packing staff touches — like spindles — get cleaned and wiped down and sanitized every time someone touches them. Everybody over there is wearing gloves and masks, just because records are fragile and fingerprints leave marks.
What has the pandemic taught you about balancing business versus personal life stuff?
I have a wife and three children, so when the pandemic started, the kids had the longest spring break of all time [laughs] and through on to the longest summer of all time. My wife owns a small business as well, so we had to figure out managing, running and operating our businesses, plus the kids and their schedules. But, really, it was pretty awesome. Getting able to lock in with the kids and hang out with them more with movie time, sports and video games — that’s really grounded us, and we hope to continue it. Business is important, but it’s definitely not everything. Family’s first for us. That’s how it is with everyone in our company. We want to make sure they have that great work-life balance.
That was one really big positive that came out of the pandemic. Everybody got to slow down, stop being in a hurry to get in line for coffee or being in a hurry to get your next project done. Maybe that’s the reason why vinyl has grown. I would guess that it’s people slowing down, looking for things to do besides watch Netflix. I would assume growing their vinyl collection gets to be part of that.
[It gets] back to the beginning of why we did all this. Analog music is something that speaks to the heart. So, for us as a company, it was, “How do we solve a problem and have great customer service and make records that we’re proud of?”
Something I have realized with vinyl is that you should always have some money set aside for when a pre-order goes up — just because, if you miss that chance, you’re out of luck. Only this morning, a relatively young band I follow shared an incredible new song from their forthcoming album, and their label put up a special first-pressing on splatter vinyl, and it’s already sold out. That was only two hours ago!
That’s exactly right. The repress side of this business has grown so crazy! It used to be we were taking new titles on and sometimes you get a repress. Now the demand has gotten so insane, we would do 10,000 [copies] with six variants right off the bat. Then, while the mastering stage is happening, they’re like, “We need 3,000 of a different variant.” Then, three weeks later, before we’ve pressed up number one, they’re like, “Uhhh, hey, we need another 2,000 of this other variant.” We’ll have four and five represses scheduled before we press the first one! We’re talking multi-thousand units, and it’s mind-blowing.
Management groups and labels do understand that [vinyl] is a special experience, and they do need to step it up. They need to take the extra effort, whether it’s a splatter color, an extra track or a different track-listing.
That’s where the fun begins for the fans. That’s why the fans will buy the same title three or four times.