With an estimated 50-million-plus people singing from its catalog of songs every Sunday and over 1.5 billion minutes garnered from YouTube viewers, Australia’s Hillsong Church is unquestionably one of the primary architects of modern worship music. Although the Sydney-based organization has several performing collectives that tour worldwide, Hillsong UNITED is likely the best known, thanks to powerfully moving songs like “Oceans,” “Touch the Sky” and “So Will I.” According to Billboard, the group’s 14th and most recent album, People, made its late-April debut this year as the week’s top-selling album across all US charts—not just Contemporary Christian—underscoring the band’s enormous popularity.
Since the release of its 2011 record, Aftermath, Hillsong UNITED has consistently toured with an L-Acoustics K1 system, after transitioning over from V-DOSC. So when the group headed out earlier this year to support People with its first North American trek in three years, Hillsong called upon Solotech’s Nashville shop to carry a K1/K2 rig for the run.
Systems Engineer Arica Rust notes that the tour’s base arena configuration consisted of 12 K1 with four K2 down on the main left and right hangs, four K1 on top of eight K2 for the side hangs, and six K1 with six Kara down for the 270° arrays. The crew also deployed two-dozen SB28 subs on the ground in a symmetrical cardioid configuration in three clusters of four on either side of the downstage thrust, spaced four feet apart.
Sixteen Kiva II delivered frontfill. Depending on the venue, these were usually stacked three high on the middle sub cluster for the “inside” fill, and then either two or three stacked on the outside sub cluster. Because there was VIP standing room on the side of the stage, the last two or three Kiva II were used as an upstage outfill to cover that area and provide additional coverage to the first couple of rows of seats under the 270° hang.
For the largest shows, such as Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena and New York’s Madison Square Garden, Solotech deployed an additional two K1 on each main hang for a total of 18 enclosures, and swapped out the side hangs for all K2. Forty-eight LA8 amplified controllers drove the entire PA via AES over RIEDEL RockNet.
According to Rust, there were several elements that were rather unique to this show. “In addition to the main stage, we had a ‘B stage’ where the opener, Mack Brock, and some of UNITED’s more intimate, acoustic songs were performed,” she notes. “This stage was located in front of the PA on the arena floor, sometimes very close to front of house. With the valuable assistance of our PA techs, Nick Stover and Mike Bradley, I tried my best to not aim boxes directly at the stage, but was actually pleasantly surprised by how much gain before feedback the PA exhibited even with these elements. Even on the downstage thrust, we never had feedback issues and I think the wide horizontal placement of the main hangs and the high level of directivity control in the array played a major role in that.”
The tour’s sub configuration was also unique in that they had to separate the subs left and right due to the downstage center thrust dividing the array. “We wanted to steer the low frequency energy away from it, so having a symmetrical cardioid configuration with the reversed sub onstage slightly steered the polar response of the subs away from the thrust,” Rust shares. “In addition, we delayed each cluster slightly using values based off Soundvision predictions to create a slight arc to spread the low frequency coverage better throughout the floor. The great thing about K1 is that even though we did not have flown subs, the full range of the box goes down to 35Hz so it can deliver LF content to the back of an arena especially when used in conjunction with the LF Contour function in Array Morphing.”
She goes on to add that another challenge they had to work with was the roof structure and video wall that displayed the lyrics. “It was crucial that the PA did not end up being shadowed by the corners of the structure, but fortunately all this can be drawn in, and thus results predicted and adjustments analyzed, in the Soundvision model,” she notes.
Speaking of Soundvision, Rust reveals that every venue had to be modeled in Soundvision because every Soundvision file translated directly into an import into Network Manager that reflected the variables of that day’s configuration. “On a typical day, I would go into the venue first thing in the morning, take measurements, compare them to the Soundvision database model if there was one, and build a XMLP file,” she recalls. “It was imperative that the vertical measurements were accurate to dictate correct placement of dmin, dref, and dmax for the Autosplay functions to predict properly.
“The Autosplay and AutoFIR tools were an inherent part of my workflow because Auto Init and Optimize would help me optimize the inter-element angles quickly where I could then make minor adjustments as necessary for each day’s deployment. I relied heavily on the AutoFIR to create an even starting point in coverage and integrity in the PA. I would try to use the same loudspeaker configuration data file in Soundvision every day so that I could use the same Network Manager file and load new synchronization groups with updated FIR filters, which saved a ton of time rather than daily trying to rebuild customizations.”
One exception to this workflow was when she had to change the configuration of the PA. The tour consisted of a wide variety of venues and some arenas were smaller than others or had trim height restrictions so then the PA configuration itself had to be altered to fit the requirements of that venue. “Being able to quickly assess the effects of these variables in a model in Soundvision helped me make quick decisions on how to manipulate the deployment for that day.”
FOH Engineer James Rudder has been with Hillsong UNITED since the group’s inaugural tour in 2003, plus toured with the church’s other musical entities, including Young and Free, and Worship. He gives Rust and her PA tech team of Stover and Bradley considerable praise for their meticulous work, day in and day out.
“Arica would always get the system to a really great cohesive point day-to-day, at which stage we would always walk the entire room together and discuss ways to provide the best sound for the end listener. I really enjoy that collaboration and part of the process! Then, Network Manager really gives you all the tools you need to make the tweaks confidently in different areas.
“The challenge I have had in the past when mixing UNITED on ‘one-off’ systems is the distraction and subsequent adjustments that have to be made when negotiating the hugely varied content the band delivers in its vastly diverse catalog, one song to the next. K1 and K2 have always streamlined that for me.”
Rust agrees that a well-tuned system and Rudder’s good mix are music to her ears: “Hillsong UNITED have a very dynamic set. The show goes from bass-driven dance content to soft, spoken-word or acoustic pieces. Even tonality throughout the entire audience area is mission critical for this application as much as SPL, and I feel like K1/K2 does a very good job at delivering this fidelity. I could walk around with James and the trusty VNC tablet listening to the entire system as a whole and each of the subsystems scaled evenly to create a consistent coverage across the listening plane.”