Thanks to listeners like you, demand for vinyl has been on the rise for the past decade. But pressing plants have struggled to keep up with the revival. It can take months to get a record pressed, which poses a challenge for small labels and independent artists who can't afford to leave funds tied up for long. This means that you've been missing out on some great records. The good news for all of us is that a number of fine folks are stepping in to pick up the slack.
Meet HDR (from left): Alex Cushing, COO; Dustin Blocker, Chief Creative Officer; and John Snodgrass, VP of Biz Dev. Photo by D Magazine.
Hand Drawn Records is an independent label and vinyl record manufacturer based in Dallas, TX. Using state-of-the-art technology, Hand Drawn helps independent artists get their music onto wax and into your record collection. HDR founder Dustin Blocker explains how:
Many pressing plants use technology that is decades-old. HDR uses the brand new WarmTone press from Toronto's Viryl Technologies. How is this technology different?
The technology for our presses utilizes all of the same principles of record pressing that have been in place for 70 years. The difference is in the tight tolerances: to make a great record you need CONSISTENT steam, cool water, and pressure. Our press' systems allow for there to be very little variance from record to record, which primarily helps in low amounts of wasted records/less recycling needed and of course, flat, great-sounding records. [Our process] is definitely FAST. Yesterday we pressed three small projects for some indie guys and delivered them 8 weeks ahead of schedule. That might just be enough uniqueness for the time being!
WATCH: Meet the record-pressing robot fueling vinyl's comeback
Is production capacity beginning to catch up with the heightened demand for vinyl?
Yes, thankfully for music enthusiasts and artists alike, capacity is getting better. We have set ourselves up to be a solution to that capacity issue with our new presses and their high rate of speed and efficiency. We are very excited about what that can mean to both the musician and record collector!
Rumor has it that the WarmTone Press is capable of 24/7 operation. What’s the longest you've let it run?
Very true, we currently run 18 hours a day, 5 days a week and we find that the time the WarmTone's aren't running not only makes us sad, but makes us inefficient (as starting them up and shutting them down wastes time we could be pressing more records). We're about to move to 24/7 later this Spring.
WATCH: The Warmtone press in action
What led you to start a record pressing company?
We started as an artist-first indie label, but after getting my own band's record pressed in 2014 it jump-started my passion for the medium, which pretty quickly led our company to where it is today! I am fascinated by challenging myself and our company, and thought, what better way [to do that] than to get into manufacturing the product we hold most dear: the vinyl record.
What makes the difference between a good pressing and a bad pressing? How do you tell them apart during production?
Mostly good vs. bad is seen visually; bad ones coming off warped or bowed, labels being torn slightly from sticking to the record press etc. Audio-wise, you can usually see those issues too in the form of "pock marks" on the finished record; these can cause skipping in extreme examples.
Is it true that colored vinyl doesn't sound as good?
Yes, the further you get away from black vinyl (meaning the more transparent), the worst a record sounds. However, depending on style of music, you might not notice as much; the quieter the music style, the more apt you are to hear surface noise on lighter colored records.
What's up with heavier records? Do they really sound better?
It has to do with the feeling of quality, heavier "feels" more expensive, better quality. There is no evidence that a heavier record "sounds" better, but if it helps a listener get into an album more because of perceived value, then more power to them!
Are there any noticeable differences between the records pressed today and those pressed 50+ years ago?
Not in the records themselves besides the standard weight (today's records are typically heavier as audiophiles want heavier records).The PVC formulations are pretty much the same. Of course audio in general has taken some leaps forward, so the audio captured can in theory be higher quality depending on who mixed, mastered and/or plated the record.
Does the production process change depending on the musical content of a record?
No. The mastering and plating guys have their work cut out for them in that area, so we let them do their thing. Either digital files or mastered tape is sent to our cutting engineers and they do specific EQ and other techniques to make the recording shine on vinyl. Then that master plate gets electroformed to make what is called the "stamper." The stamper is actually the negative of the master and is what is used to mold the record itself. Record pressing is compression molding, plus heat, which comes from steam. The compression molding, plus heat is what we at Hand Drawn Pressing do.
What records have really impressed you with their sound quality lately?
Most recently, The Weeks "Easy" LP, Paco Estrada's "Dancing with the Devil" LP and our own compilation, "Analog Sessions, Volume 2" have come out great sonically!
What do you look for in a good turntable setup?
One that works without hassle. That is actually why we love our Orbit turntables from you guys. We pulled them out of the box, hooked them up, pushed on and haven't had to hassle with them at all. They do their job, and for us, that's a huge win.