Bringing a Better Day to venues across the United States and Europe, Country Music queen Dolly Parton has been showcasing her latest studio album to her devoted live audience. Key to the production is a pair of digital consoles from the Midas Pro range – a Pro6 at front of house, operated by Mike Fechner, and a Pro9 on monitors, both supplied by Thunder Audio of Detroit. And regardless of whether she’s playing the Hollywood Bowl or the O2 Arena in London, its an Isomax Headset mic from Countryman capturing that signature voice.

The Midas touch

Dolly on stageUsing Midas digital for the first time, Dolly’s monitor engineer Glass is finding his Pro9 invaluable for the complex show, which changes from bluegrass to full string pop to gospel and back again, performed by seven multi-instrumental musicians and three backing vocalists: ‘I’m using scenes extensively as I have a lot of changes happening on layers that are out of sight and out of mind while I’m paying attention to Dolly,’ he says. ‘It really simplifies the show for me; it’s also reliable and consistent. If I have a cue in the show, it’s exactly when I recall the scene, instead of dialling it in on the fly.

‘I also love the POPulation Groups. Everything I need is always right in front of me, just where I want it to be. I work so that the console’s Area B on my right is always Dolly, with my left hand for the band’s channels. I’ve set up a VCA group for each player, with one for the backing singers, and then I use POP groups for things like audience mics and reverbs. So aside from having the POP buttons in front of me to call it up, I also have the faders for each musician. If a player changes their instrument and I don’t like where it’s sitting in the mix, I have their VCA right in front of me, no matter what they’re playing.

‘The scene editor is brilliant and I use it all the time. If a player asks me for a change, I can go to the scene editor and propagate that change through all the scenes and know with confidence that the next time I call up a scene, it’s not going to reverse my change. I also really like how specific it is; you can dial it in right on any parameter on any input or output.’

Glass is touring with no outboard effects, relying solely on the Pro9’s onboard selection. ‘I love the reverbs. In the past I haven’t used a plate reverb on drums as I never liked the way it worked out, but the plate in this console is perfect for drums,’ he says. ‘It’s the reverb that isn’t there; it puts a space around the kit without sounding like a horrible snare drum reflection. The DL431s mic splitters are as perfect as a preamp can be. In the smaller venues it’s a bonus not having an extra rack of effects, and it also means I don’t have to chase hums and buzzes in analogue cabling like I used to. Also having the different compressor models in the desk means I don’t need to bring out a classic piece of gear when I want a vintage sound on compression, it’s already in there.’

At FOH, Mike Fechner is equally appreciative of his Midas Pro6 system: ‘As a Nashville-based FOH mixer for nearly two decades now, from carrying full production to guest mixing on the console du jour, I've laid hands on just about every digital desk there has been,’ he says. ‘Quite simply put, the Midas Pro6 does not sound like a digital console.’

Dolly on the mic

Jason GlassNashville-based Glass has toured as a monitor engineer with artists including Sara Evans and Tanya Tucker. Additionally, he served as monitor engineer for country music legend John Michael Montgomery for a decade. ‘Dolly’s voice is a versatile instrument,’ he says. ‘It ranges from whispered speech to explosive laughter, to childlike character voices, to belting out full-on gospel singing.

‘The Isomax Headset captures every nuance of her performance with pristine fidelity. Our monitor system includes ten downstage wedges – all for Dolly’s mix. As you can imagine, the headset’s gain before feedback must be exceptional to keep such power in check while keeping her vocals on top of our ten-piece band. We usually work large venues like sports arenas and amphitheaters, but we occasionally do intimate theaters. Regardless of the venue, the audience is frequently a raucous bunch. The off-axis rejection of the Isomax is very helpful in minimising the effect of these variables.’

More than just its performance, Glass believes a secure, comfortable fit for a headse mic is essential: ‘Dolly is an energetic performer,’ he explains. ‘The Isomax Headset stays in place through some fairly frenetic action when adjusted to a comfortably snug fit, and that inspires confidence in the product.’

Currently, there are two Countryman Isomax Headsets used onstage during the concert performances and Glass keeps several backup units ready. ‘I prefer the cardioid model’s pattern for lead and duet vocals,’ he says. ‘We first started using the hypercardioid model in 2006, but we then switched to the cardioid pattern for the Better Day tour. It’s a bit more forgiving in terms of placement near the performer’s mouth.

‘When I began mixing monitors for Dolly in 2006, we auditioned at least eight of the world’s most popular headsets, including those costing many times the price of the Isomax. The microphone had to adhere to several rigid parameters, including cosmetics, comfort, physical stability in its placement and, of course, superb audio quality. The most difficult trait to accommodate was keeping the mic from blocking the audience’s view of her mouth while maintaining great sound quality. Ultimately, the Isomax rose to the top as the perfect choice.’

In addition to Dolly, who uses the Isomax Headset for the entire show, musical director, lead guitarist and vocalist Kent Wells also uses onewhile performing two duets with the singer. Additionally, Glass wears a duplicate headset with matched output to the performers’ sets. This enables him to know their exact levels and to ‘ring the wedges’ (adjust EQ settings to minimise the possibility of feedback). According to Glass, ‘The consistency from unit to unit is exceptional.

‘Over the years, I’ve worked with many headset microphones,’ he closes. ‘As a monitor engineer, I must balance many factors when choosing a microphone, and few microphones are as versatile as the Isomax. From a whisper to a scream, in a 105dB environment, while a performer dances across the stage with a musical instrument in hand, I know I can count on great sounding vocal input from Countryman’s Isomax Headset.’


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