Spank! Music founder Shafer, 53, succumbs after illness; hailed as Chicago admusic innovator

More than 300 persons attended funeral services Jan. 3 for admusic composer/producer Steve Shafer, 52, who was hailed as a visionary who revolutionized commercial music production through his early use of synthesized music.

Mr. Shafer, 52, died Dec. 30 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after a long battle with kidney cancer that began last January.

He had been a founding partner in award-winning Spank!Music and Sound Design (with composers Greg Allan and Mat Morse) in 1997. His client roster of loyal major agencies reflected his immense talent and his legendary dedication to music and his clients.

Ted Kay, who’d been a partner in TMK/Elias where Mr. Shafer began his career, recalled purchasing an expensive synclavier especially for Mr. Shafer in the early ?80s, one of the first in the city. “Steve was a magician with the synclavier,” recalled Kay, president of TMK Productions.

Because of Mr. Shafer’s early expertise with the synclavier and his vision of synthesized music, the company he formed with Ira Antelis in was credited with changing the sound of commercial music when they opened in 1988.

“Steve was one of the real revolutionaries in commercial music production,” said Hank Neuberger of 3rd Wave Productions. “He and then partner Ira Antelis introduced the synclavier into the Chicago music community and transformed it.”

“We were the only ones in Chicago doing synthesized music at the time,” recalled his former partner, Ira Antelis, creative music director for Leo Burnett.

The partners also decided to make everything sound like a record? to give the score a very big sound, “rather than have it sound like a jingle,” the prevailing admusic at the time.

Their company was immediately successful and attracted business from major agencies for which they wrote and recorded scores for Gatorade, McDonald’s, 7Up, Miller Light, Sears campaigns and many others.

One of Shafer/Antelis’ first clients was Bernie Pitzel, partner in Romani Bros., for whom they wrote the classic Gatorade song, “Be Like Mike,” their first hit score among hundreds over the years.

Over his 16-year relationship with Steve Shafer, Pitzel said the composer never disappointed him and often surprised him in coming up with exactly the right music for the advertiser.

Pitzel called him “a great songwriter — one of the last guys who understands the value of a great hook. He’d come up with something you’d find yourself singing and memorizing, which is huge. If we didn’t hit it the first time, Steve would come back with ?here’s something I’d like to try.’ And it was exactly right.”

Mr. Shafer’s dedication to perfection was legendary among his clients and staff, “as he strived for an excellence no one had ever achieved,” said Antelis. “He’d work three days straight without going home to make the score better and better, even though he’d been told the score was great as it was.

“Steve raised the bar. He out-houred everyone. If he’d been an athlete, he’d have been in the Olympics,” Antelis said. “But the final result always showed. If you played anyone else’s music against his, his was always better,” Antelis said.

A joke around Spank! Music, said Greg Allan, was that with the birth of his daughter, Maya, Mr. Shafer would have a reason to go home at night.

Allan, who had worked with Mr. Shafer for 13 years, said he had never seen a work ethic like Mr. Shafer’s before. “He always made the extra effort to please the clients. He had a personal, caring touch about what our clients thought and said. And when we became friends with clients, it was something Steve valued and cherished.”

When Mr. Shafer and Antelis amicably headed in different directions in 1996, Mr. Shafer sequed into Steve Shafer Music, which was equally successful as his previous venture. “He kept reinventing himself every five years,” said Allan.

Five years later, realizing he would need partners and staff to keep pace with increased business and changing advertising trends, he invited composers Allan and Morse to join him in Spank!Music in expanded staff and space at 445 E. Ohio.

Mr. Shafer, a native of the Peoria area, graduated from Judson College in Elgin and received his masters in composition from Northern Illinois.

He is survived by his wife, Roselle, 7-year old daughter Maya, his parents, a sister and brother-in-law.

A memorial in his name may be made to the Kidney Cancer Assn., 1234 Sherman Ave., Evanston, 60202.

Spank!Music’s phone is 312/329-1310; Email, Midwest@spankmusic.com.

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