Nashville, TN – September 2011 ... As the Queen of Country Music, Dolly Parton personifies Nashville and its musical culture. Recognized worldwide for her signature country, country pop, bluegrass, and ballad-style musical offerings, Ms. Parton is, without question, a Nashville music icon. Currently, Ms. Parton is in the midst of her Better Day tour to promote her new studio album of the same name. After completing a series of performances during July and early August at leading venues across the United States, she then left for the European leg of the tour, which will continue through Mid September. Regardless of whether she’s performing at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles or O2 Arena in London, there’s one subtle but unmistakable constant—her use of the Isomax Headset microphone from Menlo Park, CA-based Countryman Associates.
Nashville-based Jason Glass serves as Ms. Parton’s monitor engineer for the Better Day tour. An audio professional since 1989, Glass has toured as a monitor engineer with many artists, including Sara Evans and Tanya Tucker. Additionally, he served as monitor engineer for country music legend John Michael Montgomery for a decade. With a track record like this, Glass certainly knows what to look for in a microphone for live performance. He discussed those attributes of the Countryman Isomax Headset mic that make it so noteworthy.
“Dolly’s voice is a versatile instrument,” notes Glass. “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 minimizing the effect of these variables.”
For anyone who uses a headset microphone, a secure, comfortable fit is essential. Anything less, and the performer can become distracted—compromising the performance. “Dolly is an energetic performer,” Glass explained. “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—just in case. “I prefer the cardioid model’s pattern for lead and duet vocals,” says Glass. “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.”
Glass described how the Isomax Headset was selected as Ms. Parton’s go-to microphone, “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 Ms. Parton—who uses the Isomax Headset for the entire show— musical director, lead guitarist, and vocalist Kent Wells also uses an Isomax Headset while performing two duets with Ms. Parton. 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 minimize the possibility of feedback). According to Glass, “The consistency from unit to unit is exceptional.”
As he focused his attention back to the business of the Better Day tour, Glass summarized his experience with Countryman’s Isomax Headset microphones. “Over the years, I’ve worked with many headset microphones,” he reports. “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 105 db 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.”
To learn more about Dolly Parton and her Better Day tour, go to www.dollypartonmusic.net.