LoFi is easy: Here's how to achieve the chill vibe in your beats
Lo-fi or lofi, is short for low fidelity and it refers to a recording that has “flaws” or is recorded with less professional quality. It is the opposite of high fidelity or hi-fi.
Lofi sounds usually have background noise or mistakes in performance, and are recorded with inexpensive equipment. Lofi is regarded as a more authentic form of music production because it doesn’t need much to be created.
Lo-fi represents qualities of imperfection, homemade and analog recordings, and a general do-it-yourself vibe. It shares some elements with downtempo music, the chillwave scene, house and jazz.
The result is a relaxed, retro sound that is perfect as the soundtrack for tasks that require focus.
Lo-fi itself can be applied to many genres, as the term itself only speaks about how music is recorded. In general, it also includes some environmental sounds like kids playing, birds singing or sounds that make it seem the song is coming from vinyl records or cassettes. The most popular genre however, is lofi hip hop, pioneered by black musicians like J Dilla.
The lofi aesthetic has also expanded from music into visual art, as a deep dive into the cozy, nostalgic vibe it represents.
The first lo-fi tracks were produced in the 90s by a group of underground artists, but similar genres that have a DIY vibe have existed since the 50s. The earliest rock and roll records in the 1950’s all the way to the 1970’s can be considered lo-fi simply because of how the equipment sounded.
Mark Richardson at Pitchfork Media credits The Beach Boy’s album Smiley Smile which was released in 1967 as the album that invented lo-fi bedroom pop. And their album Wild Honey was credited with the idea of DIY pop by the editors of Rolling Stone. Both albums are part of a trilogy along with Friends that was released in 1968. Those albums were recorded in Brian Wilson’s home studio and were referred to as bedroom tapes later on. By all of the credits and records, it is safe to say that The Beach Boy invented lo-fi. But what about modern days lo-fi hip-hop?
It is tricky to trace the origins of where the term lofi originated, but some say the word Lo-Fi was popularised by DJ William Berger, who had a show named “Low Fi” on an independent radio station where he explored home recordings from independent artists who recorded on low-cost equipment.
As for lo-fi hip hop, there are two names that paved the road for modern lofi hip hop. They are Nujabes, a Japanese DJ and producer, and American rapper and producer J Dilla.
Fast forward to the current date and there are several lo fi artists making it big on YouTube, Spotify and Soundcloud. Rejjie Snow, Bishop Nehru and Chester Watson are some of them, and even more, just a quick search of the word lofi music on YouTube will give you thousands of options, from single tracks to playlists and entire channels dedicated to it.
What defines Lo-Fi sounds
There are a few key characteristics in the lo-fi genre:
Drum loops: Like hip-hop, lo-fi makes extensive use of drum loops to form its rhythms. Both electronically produced samples and live recordings of drums are used in lo-fi. However, beatmakers prefer live elements because they’re easier to manipulate with a digital audio workshop (DAW). Beats are typically on the low- to mid-tempo range—approximately 70 to 90 BPM.
Jazz chords: Jazz chord progressions are also an important element in most lo-fi songs for their relaxed, thoughtful quality. Samples of rhythm—bass and drums—and piano are prevalent in the genre, but lo-fi artists may also incorporate horns and lofi guitar samples, depending on the composition.
Samples: Though lo-fi is typically an instrumental music form, many lo-fi tracks feature samples and other effects to support the music. Vocal samples are not uncommon, with many drawing from anime to emphasize the connection between the two mediums. The crackle of a vinyl record is also frequently employed to suggest the warmth and nostalgia of an analog recording.
How to produce Lofi Hip Hop beats
First of all, relax. This needs to be your main inspiration to the lo-fi vibe. Think a chill, relaxing afternoon with not a care in the world, doing what you love most with perfect weather. Those connecting to lo-fi hip hop for the first time, whatever the format, instantly feel some sense of community. Familiarity is comforting, as is nostalgia — another feeling that hip hop lo-fi might stir up in a listener.
You’ll need a beat, similar to a hip-hop beat but with less bass. Most lo-fi rely on a base and snare combination called boom bap, a hip hop sound invented in the 80s that is still associated with the era.
Then you’ll need a melody, that can be from a piano or a guitar. Include some effects similar to listening to cassette tapes to add nostalgia vibes, and always try to generate positivity and relaxation with your tunes. The key characteristic of most lo-fi tracks are imperfections that arise while recording music.
You can also add some other elements like the sounds of wind blowing, muffled voices or soft vocals.
Enjoy the creative process and if you don’t know where to start, you can download our newest free lo-fi sample pack Sunset Café here and begin your session with some free lo-fi guitar loops for inspiration.