Lonnie Park is a man of many talents. First and foremost he is a singer songwriter. But he’s also an extremely gifted keyboard player, recording engineer, and session musician, who performs more than 200 shows a year. He runs a successful production company called Ultimate Sound, LLC, and has even written a book about church sound called Church Sound Systems (Hal Leonard, 2001). He’s also recently developed an audio engineering program for Tompkins Cortland Community College where he teaches.
Despite all of these accomplishments, it’s easy to gauge, when talking to him, that his proudest endeavor is his recently released solo CD, Almost Showtime. Stylistically, the music on Almost Showtime could be termed country-rock, but what it really embodies are the many experiences that have helped shape Park’s career, from his Baptist upbringing to his session and songwriting work with Grammy-nominated artists and rock legends, to touring with his band Ten Man Push, to writing a book and leading an educational program.
Park first started singing as a kid in church in Ithaca, New York. “I grew up in a super Baptist home,” he says. “I was pretty much immersed in church seven days a week.” At five years old, he started being featured at church services. “They would slide a chair up behind the pulpit, sit me down on it, and I would stick my head over the top and sing a song. That’s where it all started.”
Though he was immersed in music from a young age, he confesses that it wasn’t something he took seriously until he was about 17 years old. “Eventually, one day, a light bulb went on in my head and I thought, ‘Wow, I can actually be a musician.’ And then I realized, ‘I already am a little bit.’ That’s when my passion for music took off.”
Park says he drifted towards keyboards for two simple reasons. First, there was both an unplayable guitar and a good piano in the house. “There was a guitar in the house, but it was so bad,” he recalls. Plus, he had friends in church who also played piano. It provided a social context for them to gather around, both at church and at home. “The first song I ever learned was ‘Heart and Soul,’” he remembers. “A couple of friends learned it too and we’d trade parts and find creative ways to play it. The next thing you know, we were improvising over it and it was fun.”
Church Sound Systems: Everything you need to know
“I was singing in churches all the way up until I got into rock ‘n’ roll,” says Lonnie Park. “I’ve been playing in rock bands since I was 17, so the combination naturally lent itself to setting up church sound systems and owning a production company.” He says he wrote a book on church sound because he understands both worlds and saw a need to bring higher tech audio into the church environment—to help maximize the acoustic potential in terms of sound reinforcement. The book covers everything you need to know, including design and layout of a sound system, choosing the right microphones, speaker setup and positioning, feedback trouble-shooting and control, mixers, and more.
Five Basic Dos and Dont’s for Better Church Sound
1. Place main speakers in line with, or in front of, the last line of microphones facing away. This will minimize feedback problems.
2. Never put choir or lapel mics through the stage monitors. These types of mics tend to feedback and incur bad tone when running through monitors, which are usually in close proximity to those mics.
3. House EQ should never have boosted frequencies. Use the house EQ to dip out problem frequencies only.
4. Channel EQ settings should use minimal boosting. Over-boosting causes feedback.
5. Use mics designed for each job, especially podium mics. For example, podium mics are designed to pick up from a distance, whereas handheld mics are designed to sound good when very close to the source.