What is lo-fi music?
If you are not a professional musician, chances are that you probably do not know what the term stands for. Lo-fi stands for low fidelity, according to its creator Eric Mathews.
Originally, it was an adjective that described audio production techniques or equipment that created sounds generally perceived as poor quality.
Nowadays, these imperfections or errors in the music recordings are intentionally left in to be part of the whole listening experience. The mistakes are purposefully left in to create an analog feel of the sound.
Some think it sounds more natural or familiar-sounding than high-fidelity recording. Others say it gives the vibes more character or nostalgic feelings.
Less is more in this popular music genre. The different types of layers in a song are not too complex. More importance is on the textures and intimacy of the sound.
Producers like to use amateur equipment or ‘DIY’ sound production to express technical deficiencies in the music on purpose. This may also be the reason why it is accessible for everyone to give it a go.
What instruments and sounds are used in lo-fi music?
Samples, Piano, and Guitars
Have you ever found a song with piano and some warm vocals? It’s quite typical in lo-fi music to get inspiration from jazz or soul from yesteryear.
Most producers take it one step further though. Or should I say, one humane step back?
It is quite typical in lo-fi music to sample older jazz, soul, or disco records and upcycle it to something aesthetically new. The sample is often fundamental to a new song. Producers sometimes refer to this as the mid-layer of their hymns.
You don’t have to buy a new piano to make your first track, just look for some cool samples.
You can try to slow down samples, speed them up, reverse them or stretch them to get different sounds. These snippets of audio are then often looped or combined to create unique, appealing sounds.
Piano and guitar are often great starting samples of new lo-fi music tracks. Nonetheless, take care that they don’t interfere with each other in the song. If you want to mix, you could make one of them a background sound.
Bassline and Drums
Once you have a solid collection of potential samples, you could go on with the choice of which bassline to use. Synth bass, sub-bass, or electric bass give a heartfelt feeling to the sound.
The drums in lo-fi hip hop are often inspired by hip-hop or soul kicks, snares, and hi-hats. Nobody is restricting you to search for bass and drum samples, again.
Typical is the slow tempo that is picked for the bassline and drums. Most of the time, this is somewhere between 60 and 90 BPM.
This is combined with a backbeat pattern. Important is it should create a liberating groove for the track. Sometimes, shaker or percussion loops are added that you can hardly hear, just to give the drum a warm intimacy.
When making this type of beat, try not to be too robotic. Make sure all hits sound slightly different but still on the beat. Pulling a kick just slightly offbeat revamp the texture of the song. Trial and error will get you a long way.
Melody and Chords
When the gratifying lower layer of the song is there, proceed to find some soothing melodies or chords to put on top. Again, you have a wide range of possible instruments to use. Flutes, bells, synthesizers, harps, violins, guitars,… you name it as long as it stays human yet complex in allure.
Play around with the scale of a tone until you find something that sounds right to your ears.
Don’t use tones that are too low, otherwise, they wouldn’t add very well to the previous two layers of sounds. The lo-fi melodies should not be too present and rushing. Minimalistic harmonies or downtempo vocals are great.
Noises and Effects
You can use a sample with degraded sound. However, no need to worry about the too-high quality of your sample because there are lot more options for shaping these hymns.
With the software you can add foley noises like vinyl crackling, birds chirping, leaves crunching and people speaking. This really helps bringing a track to life.
Make sure to add subtle sound effects like treble and degrade to fill where there needs to be something extra without taking away too much from your main part.
Lo-fi music is a genre that can be difficult to define because there are so many different genres and subgenres.
The term lo-fi was first used as a criticism of how recordings sounded, but now it’s a popular style of recording that has its own distinct sound.
In this type of music, you’ll find an emphasis on elements like tone and rhythm rather than melody and harmony.
The lo-fi sound has been made popular by artists such as James Blake who famously used it for his album “The Colour in Anything.”
One thing you’ll notice about lo-fi songs is they often have an analog feel. What is your favorite lo-fi instrument? Let us know!