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applause, please

Jon Erickson has been mixing sound since he was 17.

With the series Applause, Please, The Globe and Mail recognizes the efforts of dedicated citizens and those behind the scenes who make a difference in arts and cultural programs and institutions.

Anyone who has shown up extra early to a concert has seen the ritual take place. A dude on stage – it's always a dude – taps a microphone before leaning into it: "Check, check, check-check." The person he's checking with is the sound man, manning the mixing console. Nobody really notices the sound quality during the show, unless it goes wrong. One imagines the sound man hears about it (loud and clear, this time) after the concert. So, that is why, before the concert, it is check, check and check it again.

"They want perfection," says Jon Erickson, who has mixed the sound for such heavyweight artists as Bruce Cockburn, Rush and the Tragically Hip. "They want it done right, and they're the type of artists who deserve to have it done right."

Erickson is speaking from San Francisco, where he's enjoying an off day on Cockburn's current North American tour. It's noon, and he's catching up on paperwork. "I guess it's actually a half-day off," he acknowledges.

He's doing paperwork because he's doubling as the tour manager in addition to handling the sound. "It comes down to economics," says Erickson, who has worked with Cockburn for some 25 years. "With everybody downsizing now, it's multiple jobs."

Although he enjoys the tour-manager responsibilities – travel agent, bean counter and seen-it-all problem-solver – Erickson's first love is mixing sound, something he's done since he was 17.

The job is an anonymous one. Even on one of the few occasions when a sound man has been acclaimed, the honour was dubious. On Jackson Browne's Rosie, the drummer gets the girl, leaving the male protagonist who "mixed that sound on the stage so the band could hear" alone in a hotel room, doing what men alone in hotel rooms will do.

Erickson, 62, has spent the latter part of his career mostly working with Cockburn and the Hip. He was scheduled to run the soundboard for the latter's 2016 summer tour, likely the band's final run given the subsequent death of front man Gord Downie.

Downie died of cancer last fall. Two days before the Hip tour, Erickson himself was diagnosed with advanced cancer. He sat out the tour hospitalized, but is now cancer-free.

This summer, Erickson will hit the road with yacht-rock icons Steely Dan, a band he worked with for the first time three months ago. "Working with Steely Dan was great," Erickson says. "It reminded me of when I first worked with Rush, back in the 1980s. I thought, 'I can't believe I'm actually doing this.'"

Doing it, and getting paid, too. Cheque, cheque, cheque-cheque. Sounds pretty good.

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