1 May 2014

Under The Radar

The rise and rise of Elite

Canberra is a unique market for entertainment, with 350,000 people but plenty of government events work. This means lucrative corporate gigs, along with plenty of shows for a cashed up population.

Now Canberra firm Elite Sound and Lighting are undergoing a big expansion, with a new arena sized D&B Audiotechnik J series line array – quite a step up for the firm who recently purchased a new warehouse complex in Hume.


Founder Darren Russell and his wife Keri run the firm, with a full time staff of around thirteen and a healthy roster of regular casual crew. The story started in 1994 on the NSW south coast. Darren left his hometown of Bega, and went to Melbourne aged 16 to work as a casual crew member for audio firms. He’d met Denis Burke from Troy Balance at a gig on the South Coast. “He gave me his card and said come to Melbourne”, recounts Darren.

“I was full of bravado and ambition, went there and stayed with family friends. After several years I got excited by the lure of Sydney. I did some freelance around 1992, and lasted about 18 months. As a country boy I didn’t like the rat race of Sydney. The country boy went back to Bega”.

Darren worked at Magpie Music in music retail. They sold CDs, sheet music, high end hi-fi, instruments, PA – everything. “That’s where I started this business. Aside from vocal PA and party systems no one had a decent system in a truck. It was something I could do outside of work, run a double 3 way PA, some moving lights, with 6 sends of monitors”.


“It got to a point where for me personally I was over MI retail. It was getting hard to juggle the two. I had to make a decision, so I dived in. I was encouraged by Greg Williams, who’d gone into a venture with some Canberra guys. They became Audio Solutions, and tended towards corporate. They said there was a gap in the market, and I should move into Canberra. It was 2000”.

“We were a touring business, we found our groove in the country music industry. Then the light-bulb moment came in 2005 – the writing was on the wall. The acts were asking for more, and wanting to pay less. The work was not viable. I made the conscious decision, no more long touring. I was happy to do short runs within a 500k radius if the money was right, but chose to focus on the local market”.

He also met Keri that year and married her in 2007, who is clearly a fantastic partner in the business.

“I looked at what people were dong well, and what they were doing poorly. Staging Connections had the lions share of the in-house contracts. We used the info to make a best case business model and the beginning of a huge growth period was getting the first venue, Canberra Southern Cross Group. They have seven clubs in Canberra, covering a mix of corporate events and music. Then Hotel Realm knocked on our door. Then Rydges, and the National Arboretum amongst several others”.

“The secret is all our eggs are not in one basket. We don’t rely on dry hire, installs, concerts, corporate AV. We will do any kind of work.”

Elite also do sales and installations.


For some time Elite have had both a Martin W8LM, and a Turbo Sound Flex Array system. These are compact line array systems that each do a different job.

“The struggle is we have everything on a rider, except for the J line or the V Dosc.”, says Darren. “So I asked the question of Shane Baily from NAS (D&B distributors). Shane said ring anyone with D&B and ask them to tell the story – ask them if they’ve ever regretted buying D&B. So I rang a few different people with different sized systems.”

While wrestling with the decision to make a massive investment in premises and a line array, Darren had another light-bulb moment. “I had a chuckle when I saw Tony Davies on CX-TV saying ‘go hard or go home’ after they bought that huge place in Auburn (Sydney). So that’s what we’ve done. We bought the building and now the new PA.”

The system has 28 x J8 and 4 x J12 along with D80 amplifiers, D&B touring racks, J Subs and Infra subs.

Being outside the hotly contested major city markets, Darren is confident he can sub hire the system to other firms who didn’t have an axe to grind. He appears genuinely sanguine and non combative, unlike some of the hard nosed characters in pro audio.

Aside from audio, where there are also Midas Pro 9, AVID Profile and SC48, Yamaha M7CL’s with a variety of smaller Soundcraft digital consoles and following a recent trip to Pro Light & Sound in Frankfurt, a Midas Pro X on the way.

Elite are well equipped with lighting and plenty of Vuepix LED screens combined with a vast array of conventional video.

There’s a respectable inventory of lighting, with consoles from Chamsys, and some older Jands Consoles along with a Hog 4 currently on order. They have over 200 Robe fixtures – movers and LED’s and enough conventional gear to satisfy the level of work they do.

As for the building, it has a section on the end that is sub divided and rented, which can be recalled for future expansion.


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