Every year, new manufacturers enter the pro audio industry, and seeing them start up can be a little like watching people at your local skating rink. Some putter along in a rudimentary fashion until they call it a day; others wobble and wipe out spectacularly. But the pros, you can spot them right away—their blades hit the ice and they’re off, deftly in command of their movements and able to bring it all together in a way that makes the rest of the rink raise an eyebrow and take notice.
That’s what happened in 2012 when loudspeaker manufacturer VUE Audiotechnik was founded by a team of high-profile industry pros—and the metaphor is particularly apt in this case because it was skating that first led one of those team members, Sara Elliott, to the world of live sound.
“I became interested in event production while touring with ice shows as a professional show skater,” she says. “Unfortunately, skaters have a shelf life, so when I hit that ceiling, I knew the production world could make good use of my experience with everything from trucking logistics to set-up and load-out. There’s just something very satisfying about putting a show together and moving it around the country. Why audio? Because they were always the fun guys on tour!”
Elliott’s first production job was with Burns Audio—a spot that found her learning on the fly as the company tackled sound for TV award shows. “You can imagine my surprise—having barely unlaced my skates, I’m suddenly on the red carpet as a runner for Patrick Batzel at the Shrine for the Academy Awards,” she recalls. Taking on numerous roles, Elliott worked with the VP of Special Events, as well as in various sales administration and marketing positions. “I also gained invaluable experience as a diplomat and negotiator while navigating the charged political environments of high-profile TV award shows and political events,” she says. “I draw on all of these skills to this day.”
A move to A-1 Audio and Lighting (later acquired by PRG) put Elliott into the world of rock ’n’ roll tours; once there, she met Ken Berger—then co-founder of Eastern Acoustic Works and later co-founder of VUE Audiotechnik—when A-1 purchased an EAW KF 850 rig for 1995’s Van Halen Balance Tour. “Working with Ken on the marketing for that tour inspired me to explore public relations work,” she says, “which ultimately led to a long career in pro audio publishing with magazines such as PLSN, as well as Live Sound International magazine, and prosoundweb.com as associate publisher.”
All of that led to Elliott being part of the launch team for VUE in 2012, her background providing an ideal mix of skills for running a growing business. “I’ve literally done everything from administration, sales and finance to fulfillment, distribution and inventory control,” she says. “Moving from details to big-picture strategy is comfortable for me.”
These days, she’s the COO, “Which is a really fancy way to say, ‘She who wears many hats,” but she’s hardly alone: “Ken takes care of overall company strategy, marketing and international market development. Michael Adams, who also works here in Escondido, handles all product development.”
Escondido, CA, roughly 30 miles northeast of San Diego, is home to VUE, LLC. The location houses the company’s product development, marketing, domestic sales, company operations and U.S. warehousing. Going hand-in-hand with all those departments is a growing staff, both here and abroad.
VUE’s production is likewise handled with an international approach, she notes. “Manufacturing is a true global operation thanks to our partnership with Speaker Connection GmbH of Solingen, Germany. They operate a 290,000-squarefoot production and R&D facility in Asia, where all VUE products are manufactured.”
The development of those products happens in the United States, however. Elliott says, “Mike Adams spent nearly four decades developing systems for Sound Image. He understands the challenges that engineers and system techs face every day. When we incorporate technology such as beryllium or advanced DSP, it’s done with the real world in mind. You could say it’s just another example of our customer-first mentality.”
That mentality is crucial for any new company in an industry that relies so much on personal bonds. “We launched VUE in part because we saw many established companies losing sight of their customers’ needs,” she recalls. “Acquisitions and buyouts were diluting longstanding relationships. Before VUE, we all built some of pro audio’s most respected brands; we understand the value of relationships.”
Building out a company’s infrastructure has its challenges, but it also has its rewards, such as the satisfaction of seeing the company’s products used for high-profile productions. Elliott pointed out, “We’re currently supporting the Kendrick Lamar tour worldwide, among others; that’s a massive commitment in time and resources for a young company. We’re also seeing a lot of interest in large and mid-format line array systems in the HOW and corporate rental markets. We’re working really hard to build our sales organization to support the growing potential for VUE in those markets.
“Currently, the concert sound and touring segments are VUE’s most significant focus, but we are actively pursuing installation markets. At InfoComm, we launched the new e-Class integrator systems, which we believe will be a disruptive product for contractors.”
There’s another thing that VUE is starting to build: careers. “On a personal front, I’m very passionate about my involvement with SoundGirls,” says Elliott. “In fact, last year I was able to support a young woman named Michelle Naziri, who I met through the mentoring program at SoundGirls. She joined VUE as an intern and is now finishing her engineering degree at Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo. We’re really looking forward to seeing her career progress.”
Elliott started in pro audio 28 years ago and since then, women have remained under-represented. (“I have lots of big brothers”). Today, her involvement in SoundGirls allows her to improve that ratio going forward: “After all these years, I am so excited to see how the industry is changing for women. There was a small group of us when I started in 1990; today, I’m thrilled to see so many talented young women coming onboard and making noise. This makes the small group of ladies with whom I’ve shared this journey that much more proud. Maybe we helped to blaze a trail.”
VUE Audiotechnik • www.vueaudio.com