To change the narrative on the stories told from Skid Row and the story of his life, Christopher N. bought a $25 computer from a thrift store and started making music.
“I live on low income, and I’m using a 30-day trial to make the music,” said Christopher, who wouldn’t reveal his last name. “I’m essentially doing everything to the cheapest way I possibly can to make this happen.”
Once homeless, 40-year-old Christopher now lives in the housing on Skid Row and uses his time to write and produce music under the name Skid Row Productions.
He hopes his music will help him afford to join The American Federation of Musicians Local 47, an LA-based union that provides health care and other benefits. He taught himself how to advertise his music by paying for ads on Facebook and spreading his music to as many ears as possible.
Christopher’s ultimate goal isn’t to simply make his own music career but to create an artistic space and a foundation for Skid Row’s artists. He wants to teach them the ins and outs of how to create music and advertise one’s self to help put them on the path to getting housing, health care and artistic expression.
“I want to show people how you can try to change your life, right from here, just as you are,” Christopher said.
His idea to make money from music came from an experience where he and his friend were both homeless at the same time. Both were struggling, but his friend was part of the LA musicians’ union, where he received health insurance and other benefits from his membership.
From there, Christopher said he was inspired to find a way to raise money to pay the dues required to be part of that union and help others raise money to join as well. That’s where the name Skid Row Productions comes in.
“I know pain makes beautiful art, and so there’s so much pain here,” he said about Skid Row.
He doesn’t want recognition, he said; rather, he wants to encourage those on Skid Row to use art and music to create a path of success.
“A common thing that you see (on Skid Row) is people rolling by with digital cameras, and no one ever gets paid that’s on the camera,” he said. “The only people who ever get recognition are the people with the cameras. My idea is rather to tell the story of Skid Row from people that live here in Skid Row.”
Christopher’s lyrics are molded by his real-life experiences as a homeless person. Originally from the Dallas area, he moved to LA and it took him a while to go to Skid Row to seek help.
“It’s very frightening if you roll past and you’re not familiar with the situation,” he said.
He talks about roaming the streets of Hollywood in his song “City of Angels,” which starts with a sample of dialogue from newscasters talking about LA’s homelessness.
The sample he used in the beginning of the song shows how many people in society are aloof toward the problems that the unhoused community faces, as the sample ends with “Blah, blah, blah, in other news…” and begins the kick to the dreamy, low-tempo song.
His high-energy dance song called “Go Outside” was made “out of frustration,” he said.
“I was using a piece of software that was on a trial, and before I could finish doing what I needed to do with the five-day trial, it expired,” Christopher said.
He used his frustration as a tool and carefully noted how the software adjusted the reverb and audio, teaching himself how to do the same with the software he does have, he explained.
As of now, Christopher said he unfortunately hasn’t made much money from his efforts. “I’m in the hole,” he said, laughing.
On his self-designed website, he describes the movement behind his music as “The Sound of Poverty.” His home page includes a 2019 article from Visual Capitalist detailing how many streams it takes to make a significant amount of money. On Spotify, it takes 229 streams to make just $1, the article states.
He’s invested in himself and his music, paying money to get his music on popular streaming services like Apple, Spotify, Soundcloud and more. All his mixing, copyrighting and personal advertising is done from his computer in his apartment, where he has microphones and studio monitors set up.
“It’s been a lot of work, a lot more work than I would have thought, but just as much as I thought at the same time,” he said.
Christopher spent his childhood years in the foster care system. Since he turned 18, he’s struggled with homelessness, having to stay at hotels, friends’ houses or on the streets, he said.
When he was younger, his foster parents took him to piano lessons, “because I was too much to deal with,” he said. The piano lessons worked, he said, adding that his piano teacher was a significant figure in his childhood.
“She was a lady who took me from a boy’s home to her family’s house on the holidays because my family wasn’t around,” he said, getting teary eyed. “She had no ulterior motive other than she saw a child who needed help and she gave it to me.”
While much of Christopher’s music is inspired by EDM, hip-hop and trap music, he has plans to release classical compositions inspired by Mozart and other composers.
He said he empathizes with those who have grown up in the foster care system, also saying that it shaped him to be the independent person he is.
“As a kid, I always did feel like I was on my own,” he said. “I’ve always felt like you have to make your own way. That’s what I want to teach other people: You have to do it yourself; nobody is going to do it for you.”
Even though Christopher is no longer unhoused, he still goes to committee meetings to speak about issues relating to poverty and homelessness in LA.
“If I don’t go down there and tell them how I feel, then I wouldn’t be doing my part,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about these issues, but they’re close to my heart.
Christopher hopes that someday if his foundation takes off and other artists work with him under Skid Row Productions, it can bring light to the issues that hinder the unhoused communities and eventually change the stigma that surrounds it.
“Too often what comes out of Skid Row is negative,” he said. “I want to make sure that I determine what my environment is.”