Words by Rick Mauch
Photography by LP Taylor Photography
As a musician, Dustin Blocker made quite a few records in a recording studio. Now, the Granbury resident literally creates records as he is co-owner of Hand Drawn Records in Addison. The company presses vinyl records on site, specializing in working with up-and-coming musicians.
“I kept seeing vinyl pop up everywhere. Now, vinyl records is at about 13 percent of the music industry,” Dustin said. “There was a huge need, and not many could fill it.”
So Dustin joined forces with his good friend Alex Cushing, who he met while working in e-commerce in the fashion industry with the Fossil Group, and Hand Drawn Records was created.
“He asked me if there was any money in music. I said no, but there could be in vinyl producing,” Dustin recalled.
So the two formed a partnership in 2014. Dustin is the chief creative officer and goes into the office a couple days a week, while Alex, who lives in Dallas, handles the day-to-day operations. After working brokerage with other plants to have records pressed, they decided to keep the work in-house and purchase their own presses.
“As of Jan. 1, 2017 they landed on our docks in Addison. The first six months we were learning. It took about
a year to get really good at it,” Dustin said. “You’re only as good as your name, and your name is your actual product.”
And in a business as rare as theirs, that product had better be good, Dustin noted. He said there are only about 30 companies in the entire world that do what they do, about half of those are in the United States.
“That might even be overstating it,” he said. “So it’s important to be good.”
Alex said he did not have to think twice about starting a business with Dustin.
“His combination of creativity, passion, knowledge, authenticity and openness is so unusual to see combined in one person that when you do encounter it it’s energizing, infectious and something you want to be part of,” Alex said. “Dustin’s passion, that he so easily shares, conveys to you his commitment to helping other artists reach and deliver their dreams of getting their sounds out to the world. You can feel and see that this means as much to him as it does to them.
“When that passion is combined with his creativity, he then not only can help the artist meet their goals, but he becomes a collaborator, working with them to extend and develop their vision. This creativity is valuable not only to other artists, but also Hand Drawn Records, pushing us to try new things and to look at things from different angles.”
Dustin spent nearly two decades in a band named Exit 380 (half rock-n-roll, half America, as he describes), formed while he was in college at the University of North Texas in Denton. He was the lead singer and played keyboards. He also understood the challenges of trying to break through as an independent music maker.
“That gave me a good look at how the world really works,” he said. “We service a lot of people no one’s ever heard of. That’s my kind of band.”
Dustin got married to his wife Emily in 2009 and in 2011 they started a family with their now 8-year-old son Jack, who likes playing drums. They also have a 6-year-old daughter, Charlie, who likes to sing, and daughter Sienna, who is almost 2. Emily also helps with the company growth, handling national sales.
They moved to Granbury in the spring of 2015. Emily is from there, and they wanted to be close to her parents, who were battling health issues.
Dustin still sings in the band at Stonewater Church.
“I’m doing it for the right reasons,” he said with a laugh. “Plus, Granbury is a great place to raise a family.” The multi-talented Dustin even designed album covers for Exit 380. That was the inspiration for the name of the company.
“I like designing covers if I could find time. The last time I designed a cover was about two years ago,” he said.
Dustin comes from a musical family. His parents were both singers, and his mother also taught music for 30-plus years.
“Someone was always singing around the house,” he chuckled. “I’ve always loved music, but I don’t miss being in the band with all the touring. I get my fix at church.”
Alex does not come from a music background, though he does love underground, independent music. His father was a plastic manufacturer.
“It’s not records, but it’s the same idea,” Dustin said.
Originally, Dustin and Alex had their sights set on hand presses. Instead, they found two digital presses that allow them to press a record every 30 seconds instead of every two minutes.
“The process is the same, compression molding,” he said. “Our presses do the same they did 60 years ago, we just have computer programming instead of a hand.”
Dustin noted that manual processing is still being done at some plants.
It was when they came across two automatic presses – the first two in the world, Dustin said – in Canada that he and Alex were able to put the finishing touches on gathering investors for their dream.
“We said, ‘We can do this.’ We met with the engineers and knew it could work, and it has,” he said. “The first two in the world are sitting in our facility. I guess you could say we were guinea pigs.”
Also, there was a lot of personal debt. We took a risk on ourselves, and now we’ve proven ourselves in the market.”
Dustin said he estimates the company will produce around $2.5 million in sales for 2019.
At Hand Drawn Records, they take a project from its conception to completion. Along with pressing, they hand pack each album and check individually for any flaws. They also bundle not just records, but T-shirts, CDs, and an assortment of other merchandise.
But pressing is what they do most, on average about 3,000 per day.
“We’ll do a million records this year,” Dustin said.
Among the artists they’ve worked with are The Lumineers, Amos Lee, Mt. Joy, Rodney Crowell, John Carter Cash (Johnny’s son) and his wife Anna Christina Cash, and more. They’ve even pressed records of compilations that include the legendary Willie Nelson.
In fact, the two presses are named Willie and Johnny (after Cash). Dustin said they are looking to add up to four more presses as soon as the next year, and are already thinking of names.
“Buddy? Chuck?” he said. “We have to give them names that are worthy. We’re tripling our growth. Business is good.”
Dustin admits that someone might find a cheaper place to have their records pressed, but quality is essential in the music industry – and Hand Drawn specializes in that, he said.
“We’re not the cheapest, but we spend a lot of time on the quality side. Each disc is touched by a human,” he said. “Any imperfection is immediately found, discarded, and recycled.
“And we provide huge customer service. I personally talk to a lot of them. We want to be the helpful side. I think that openness is why the company’s thrived. Also, it’s just the right thing to do.”