Prolific audio engineer, producer, teacher, Joshua Shapera dies at 49

By Mateusz Janik, Staff Reporter

Sedona Steffens

Known as an innovative audio producer and engineer and a renowned educator in audio arts, Joshua Shapera, 49, led all aspects of his life with the utmost assurance and care for what he was doing.

“He [was] a super-confident guy, but also very smart about his decisions and just a total guru in the studio,” said Don Bates, 2013 audio design and production alum and freelance recording engineer. “You probably don’t see so many people with Josh’s level of mastery.”

Shapera, a best friend and close colleague to many, died on Dec. 18, 2020, at the University of Chicago Medical Center due to complications with lymphoma, a form of cancer commonly seen in transplant patients.

Shapera, who graduated from Columbia in 1993 as a sound engineering major, was known for working with artists like David Murray, Aaliyah, The Flaming Lips and Liam Hayes, as well as sharing his experiences and knowledge as a part-time faculty member in the Audio Arts and Acoustics Department from 2006 until October 2020.

“We all felt like we had a niche and that we were all working to make a good recording community in Chicago,” said Benjamin Kanters, an associate professor in the Audio Arts and Acoustics Department and a close colleague. “We were just a really closely-knit group, and we shared ideas in the interest of building a good program.”

Nicholas Eipers, an adjunct faculty member in the Audio Arts and Acoustics Department, said in a Jan. 14 email to the Chronicle that he had known Shapera since the late 2000s when they both worked in the same building but at different studios.

Eipers said over the years the two of them had hundreds of conversations about improving curriculums, concepts, facilities and the student experience throughout the Audio Arts and Acoustics Department.

“While the ‘personal’ side was a much smaller percentage of our interaction, I certainly considered him a friend,” Eipers said in the email. “I know it’s going to hit me really hard, the first in-person meeting we have without him. I won’t be the only one.”

Outside of Columbia, Shapera continued to work independently with other musicians and producers on several projects until he met Patrick Sansone, a multi-instrumentalist in the rock bands Wilco and The Autumn Defense.

Sansone, who first met Shapera in 2008, said the two of them hit it off immediately. When Sansone was planning on finishing an album for The Autumn Defense, Shapera offered his studio space in Pilsen to use free of charge in the evenings and on weekends.

“That really made an impression on me because this was still pretty early in our friendship, and I didn’t know him that well yet,” Sansone said. “I was just really touched by how generous he was with his space and the studio.”

Soon after, Sansone said they created a new private studio space in an old convenience store in Humboldt Park called the Mixin’ Administration. He said they converted half of the space into a soundproof recording studio, while Shapera designed, framed and lined all the wiring needed.

Even after Sansone had moved to Nashville in 2015, he said they continued to work on multiple projects, including some of the more recent albums from The Autumn Defense.

Sansone said in more recent years Shapera had enrolled in a master’s program in cybersecurity at DePaul University, while the two of them occasionally collaborated on projects together and regularly kept up with each other.

“Josh was my best friend, though this is new territory for me to lose someone who was very close to me personally and … who made such an impact on the way I do my creative work,” Sansone said. “That’s a big hole in my life that no one will be able to replace. But on a creative level, as long as I’m making records and as long as I’m doing anything in the recording realm, he’s always going to be there … guiding me.”

Shapera is survived by his wife, Alexandrea Pataky, and children, Levi and Sophie. For those wishing to support his family during this time, there is a GoFundMe page with more information.