Steve Brodsky had a slogan. In the midst of a particularly resplendent moment — say, watching a concert in San Francisco with his young son Mason strapped to his chest, surrounded by friends — Brodsky would often say, simply, "nice life." It was a common assessment from the ever-upbeat Brodsky, and one he was well-qualified to make: Given his work in the music industry and his growing family, Brodsky did indeed appear to be living a pretty nice life.
Tragically, though, that life came to a premature end this spring. The 34-year-old Brodsky was diagnosed with an acute strain of leukemia on Christmas Eve 2012, and spent most of this year hospitalized near Washington, D.C., where he grew up. After initial treatments, his cancer went into remission, and Brodsky was scheduled to have a bone marrow transplant on April 4. His spirits were high: That same day, his wife, Anna, was set to give birth to their second child. Sadly, though, Brodsky would never meet her. His leukemia returned suddenly and forcefully in the middle of March. He died only days after being readmitted to the hospital, on March 22. His daughter, Eva, was born a week later.
"Everything was going so damn well until this happened," says Peter Shanley, a close friend of Brodsky's since his early days in San Francisco, and a person with whom he shared a great many "nice life" moments.
A native of Chevy Chase, Md., Brodsky spent about 10 years in this city, and in that time left a remarkable imprint on its music scene. He arrived as a commercial real estate broker, but departed as the manager of artists such as Wallpaper. — the Bay Area dance-pop outfit that in 2011 signed with Epic Records and is now making waves nationally — and Midi Matilda, a local rock band that also looks poised for big things. Brodsky was also a co-founder of local promotion outfit Mr. Roboto Presents, which became known for both popular Halloween parties and bringing new artists to perform in San Francisco before they later exploded in popularity. More recently, he became head of business development for WillCall, a startup that allows concertgoers to buy last-minute tickets through their mobile phones.
At the heart of Brodsky's success in the music industry was a warm persona that helped him make friends quickly and easily. Even when he trained his professional focus on the music industry, friends say, camaraderie remained a mantra. "With his relationships with artists, it was friends first, business second," says Parker Anger, who befriended Brodsky in the first grade. "He didn't bend in that formula, he just found the right people to work with."
Brodsky's outgoing personality helped him forge partnerships with key people in the local music industry. One of them was David Lefkowitz, an experienced hand who had managed Primus for 20 years. After Brodsky decided to leap full time into music, he set up an office for Mr. Roboto in the Mission District building that houses Different Fur studios. Brodsky would eventually become part of the family at Different Fur, growing close with studio owner Patrick Brown and the revolving group of artists and music obsessives who came through. As it happened, the new digs were just down the hall from Lefkowitz's longtime office. In addition to promotion, Brodsky was getting into artist management then, and would often go to Lefkowitz for advice, or to chat.
Lefkowitz soon left to become the head of concert promoter Goldenvoice's Bay Area office, but eventually decided to get back into artist management on the side. He knew he'd need a partner, and the garrulous, hard-working Brodsky immediately came to mind.
"There was really nobody I could think of that would be as perfect to work with as him," Lefkowitz says. "This was a guy that was all about music, all the time. He was completely passionate about whatever it was he was into."
The two of them jointly revived Lefkowitz's Figurehead Management. After Brodsky booked Wallpaper. for a Mr. Roboto Halloween party, they took on the band's Eric Frederic as their first client. Frederic was at that time a bedroom-funk genius and hyperactive social media user working out of Oakland. Two years later, after a string of successful independent singles and many grueling tours, Wallpaper. caught the attention of Epic Records chief L.A. Reid, who signed him to the label.
Brodsky was ebullient about getting Wallpaper. the success he'd long known it deserved. And Frederic's initial risk in hiring Brodsky as his manager -- instead of the better-connected L.A. candidates who wanted the job -- had paid off. "With Steve, I just trusted him, I liked him," Frederic remembers. "He is so effective because people want to help him."
Lefkowitz and Brodsky worked with numerous other San Francisco artists, including the indie-pop outfit A B & the Sea and electro-pop duo Midi Matilda. Other clients at various times included the Morning Benders (now called Pop Etc.), Orgone, and the Heavy.
Before getting into artist management, Brodsky co-ran the promotion outfit Mr. Roboto Presents with another of his San Francisco friends, Pat Holman. The two met on a trip in Costa Rica, and soon realized they had complementary skills. "When it came to hiring the talent, I really missed the mark," Holman says. "He was doing all the tastemaking and figuring out who was going to be the next big band."
Music was one of Brodsky's many life passions. He sang and played drums as a child, and his mother would take him to concerts and sneak him into clubs in the D.C. area. But growing up, Brodsky was a talented athlete who earned nine varsity letters and played football, lacrosse, and ice hockey. He made the football team at Lehigh University — all while his obsession with music grew, friends say — and after college followed his father into commercial real estate on the East Coast. After a brief period of working in real estate in San Francisco, though, Brodsky wanted a change. He quit his lucrative job in order to promote shows full time. The decision came as something of a shock to his family, if not his friends.
"He kind of was the prodigal son who ran away from the cushy stable career in real estate to go do music," Shanley says.
Given the short — but happy — arc of Brodsky's life, though, no one questions the wisdom of that decision.
"I'm particularly glad that he didn't listen to me with respect to what he should do in his career," says Mark Brodsky, Steve's father. "What he did is what he wanted to do, and what he had a passion for, and I think it provided a great deal of joy in his life."