It’s Sunday afternoon and at exactly 16:00, the lights dim and the pre-roll (intro video) starts to play. The Dominion theatre on West End is packed with about 2000 Londoners as church is about to start. Two minutes later, the band takes to the stage as the pre-roll finishes up and moments later, it’s all systems go! The entire theatre are on their feet as the praise and worship session starts for a third time that day. The service at Hillsong runs like a well-oiled machine on steroids. No media clips, intros, light or mic queues are missed as a team of producers, sound engineers, coordinators and stage managers put together a masterpiece that most people call ‘the weekly church service’.  Today, I got my backstage pass and caught a glimpse of the mechanics behind the scenes. So, let’s back up a little.

A few weeks ago, I decided to join the worship team at Hillsong London. The church currently has ten campuses across the UK, four of which are situated in London, with the Dominion being its flagship location. For the past few weeks, I’ve been hanging out at ‘The Warehouse’ where the worship teams from all over London have their weekly ‘team night’, a social evening where the bands rehearse the song sets for Sunday’s services. It’s quite a sight to see so many drummers, bassists, vocalists, guitarists and pianists all under one roof, taking turns on their crafts as they piece together the morning and evening services for all campuses. But this is only the worship team, on Sundays, the magic happens.

Sunday morning, very early, a huge truck pulls in at the Dominion theatre in central London. The décor, from the show that runs during the week, gets moved to the side as Hillsong’s team unpack their 30-tonne truck. During set-up, the stage’s fire curtain is down (as per law) and the teams assemble the stage, lights, screens and instruments. As one team lays the cables, another team follows with rubber covers and tapes it to the floor. One team sets-up the microphones for the vocalists and instruments, as another team checks that every connection is correctly plugged while fitting remote devices (like the in-ear monitors) with brand new batteries. The set-up team makes the process look like a well-choregraphed dance, everyone knows exactly what to do and how to do it. Once set-up is complete, the stage manager gives the “all clear” and the fire curtain goes up. The media team, sound engineers and camera men are already in place and sound check begins. With in-ear monitors, each musician on stage has their own mix. This means, the drummer can ask for the click track (metronome) to be louder in his ears whilst a vocalist can ask for higher levels of piano and pads whilst dropping elevated levels of bass. While the sound check is performed, media and lighting teams work hard to program the screens and lights, ensuring everything is responding as it should. The band sound checks each song separately as levels (bass, treble, volume etc) my change per song. The sound engineer then programs these levels into the sound desk to enable them to flip between levels for each song with the push of a button.

Once everything is ready, the teams get together for a quick briefing to run through the service. Wireless microphones backstage are double checked to ensure that it’s not only working, but that the sound board can correctly identify each microphone for each individual that needs one. Meanwhile, the team in the lobby greets everyone with a friendly smile (sometimes even hugs and kisses) and show people to their seats.

Backstage, I hear a reminder message on my headphones from the producer saying “7 minutes to pre-roll”. The worship team prays together and waits in the wing as the pre-roll starts. On demand of the producer, the members walk on stage as the last two minutes of the video plays. Seconds later, the instruction is given, “pre-roll ending, stand by for intro”. The click track starts and a voice says “Intro, drums and guitars on 1, 2, 3, 4”. On the count of 4, the stage lights up and the band starts to play the first song. The producer guides the band through each intro, verse, chorus, bridge and outro. Should they need to change the song structure on demand, the producer gives the guidance as the band follows.

After about 5 songs, the pastor walks on stage to welcome everyone to church and do the weekly “praise and prayers requests”. As the pastor walks off, I hear the producer on my monitor “Mic 2 is off, start video, band stand by”. The video that plays gives everyone a glance of upcoming events and moments later I hear the click track starting with the producer saying, “keys intro in 1, 2, 3, 4”. After three worship songs, the pastor is back on stage to deliver his message and about 40 minutes later, the band is back on stage for the final two songs.

After the last song, the house lights go on, the band walks off stage and I hear the producer’s voice one more time:

“Job well done everyone, that’s a wrap. Teams please check equipment; next service starts in 45 minutes. ”