What Is Lo-Fi Music? Cheap? Annoying? Best to Study and Relax?


Lo-fi, sci-fi, hi-fi…

What the fi?

If you don’t know what I am talking about, you are probably not an audiophile. 

And no –

An audiophile is not a person who prefers the company of stereo speakers.

But before giving any more peculiar terms, let’s find out what is Lo-Fi music.

What is lo-fi music?

Lo fi music music is actually the opposite of high-quality and high fidelity music (or just hi-fi), which is the type of production that is behind most of your favorite popular songs and music productions nowadays.

What does lo-fi stand for?

Lo fi, meaning low fidelity music, describes the degree of exactness when something is copied or reproduced. Usually, when we speak about music, low fidelity would mean bad quality, slow, repetitive tracks, sometimes with an audible hiss.

But not bad as in bad, but rather the good type of bad. 

That is music specifically designed to have repetitiveness arranged to produce a unique track. 

Where did lo-fi music come from?

Lo-fi music songs are often produced with sample selections by drum loop, or even with classic music variations. 

And did you know that – 

We can define lo-fi as chill study music – calming music tracks are actually a variety of lo fi music.

So next time when your friend has a lot of things on their mind, tell them to play some lofi chill beats and relax.

What genre is lo-fi?

Lo-fi can also be defined as a background element with an analog warmth, in which the genre is not designed to be the primary focus, but rather something to contribute to a certain action. This is similar to chamber pop, where the emphasis is on the audio, rather than the vocals.

How does lo-fi sound?

Lo-fi music is related to both R&B and jazz, since most lo-fi compositions have guitar, piano, bass, drums, and often trumpet samples. 

If you are wondering about the lo-fi pronunciation, it’s pronounced “low-fai”, since it comes from low fidelity.

Collage of black and white vintage audio cassettes with a yellow one in the middle

Let’s try to find out what makes the chill lo fi beats so good for relaxing or concentrating.

Imagine the sounds of ocean waves or a pouring river. Envision the wind hitting the leaves of a large forest or even the sounds of the endless void of space.  

Now imagine all of this combined with soothing jazz, R&B, and a little bit of a drum on the side.

I don’t know about you, but I already feel relaxed. 

The history of lo-fi music

Even though lo-fi music became quite popular only during the last few years, its origins date back to as early as 1950. 

The people who first started to produce lofi samples were amateurs and bedroom musicians. Due to their inexpensive equipment and home-recording practices, they began to create recordings that contained unnatural sounds or harmonic distortion.

Who created lo-fi hip hop?

Some people began to describe the early lo-fi productions as chillwave or even as DIY music, since the quality of the sound they had was not as high as the songs they would hear on the radio.

Despite this, the wider public came to enjoy these new lofi hip hop beats, since it was outsider music that had never been heard before at the time.  

However, not everybody was a fan.

AllMusic, which is an American online music database that catalogs more than 3 million album entities and 30 million records, claimed that lo-fi is – 

“Cheaply and quickly produced music, often on substandard equipment.”

However, the success of one lo-fi track speaks for not only itself, but the whole genre. More specifically, the track “My Song” by the artist Johnny Ace. 

Every music admirer knows how big of a deal the Billboard charts are, and “My Song” managed to reach the number one spot on the Billboard R&B chart back in 1952.

A collection of vintage vinyls

“It was a fifteen-minute job” were the words of the co-writer of the song David Mattis. But despite the fact that the song was both written and recorded at a radio station, its success is undeniable. 

According to critics, the song has a feeling of misplayed notes and primitivism due to the fact that it was rushed. However, it’s exactly this feeling that is a sample of modern-day lo fi bands. Often, artists struggle to accomplish this manually, and they turn to artificial methods to achieve it. 

Lo-fi music of today

Today, lo-fi music meaning is primarily used as a background filler for almost any situation – studying, relaxing, working, or just filling the silence.

Depending on the specific lo-fi music artists, the tape saturation can purposely or not be damaged or degraded to create this exact feeling of imperfection. 

Now compare this to popular, mainstream music, which we classify as hi-fi. This type of music is expertly mixed and mastered to create professional sound reflections.

On the other hand, lo-fi is intended to sound the opposite – raw. 

Today’s lofi songs tend to derive inspiration from 1990s popular hip-hop and R&B records and turn them around to create something unique. 

Loops, lofi piano samples or lo fi jazz samples are all parts of the genre.

However, sampling another track is not something new in the music industry. Even in today’s popular and R&B music, you can hear tons of artists sampling famous songs from previous years and decades.

A vinyl playing on a vinyl player

Many different artists such as The Black Eyed Peas, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry and many more have hits that are sampled from successful old songs.

Although this may sound like stealing, it is actually different than that. It is similar to hauntology, which refers to returning elements from the past. The rights of a song are of course bought, so legally the sample can be recorded or duplicated.

But not only.

Some of the best lofi songs today are cut, rearranged or extended to create something different, yet familiar. 

This is done for a couple of reasons.

The first one being the intent for the song to sound fresh, with a retro, vintage or disco vibe, which is all the rage nowadays.

But mainly, sampling a popular old song is done to create the feeling of nostalgia. 

Lo-fi tracks are no exception.

A Collection of vintage Radio arranged on a shelf

Nostalgia is the sentimental and yearning desire to return in thought to a former time or place in one’s life that is associated with joy and happiness.

Lo-fi, similar to hypnagogic pop, gives us this nostalgic feeling not only for things that have passed, but also for the things that have yet to come.

When listening to most genres of music, people tend to remember a certain lyric or a specific vocal that may get stuck in their head.

But when it comes to lo-fi, this is different.

What remains in your head after listening to lo-fi is not a memory of a lyric, but rather a lasting emotion, feeling or state of mind.

However, the genre is not made up of just lo fi hip hop beats to study and relax to. There are plenty of genre combinations along with the chill degraded audio signals of lo-fi.

Parts of it, like lofi rap, lofi pop or lofi live concerts, may not be as popular as lofi jazz and lofi remixes for concentration, but they are still part of the artform.

So, how to make lo fi music, and what instruments to make a lo fi album you would need?

Lo-fi is more than just bedroom pop, so you will definitely need audio engineering skill, or at least to some degree.

Downloading some digital audio workstations will be the first step of starting your journey. If you are technically primitive (like me) do your research first before getting your hands on those unfavourable signal-to-noise ratio notes.

Consider checking your room acoustics and think about what kind of out of tune or out of time notes you want to produce.

The aesthetic of lo-fi music

Lo-fi music is a musical journey.

In lo-fi tracks, there are tons of references to jazz and solo artists, but with phonographic imperfections.

And not only from a single place. 

Lo-fi music samples explore different continents, countries and cultures. The influence for the lo-fi aesthetic is taken from a global perspective and viewpoint that makes people feel like they are listening to a jazz or hip hop instrumental, but from an old vinyl player. 

Most of today’s lo-fi music draws inspiration from Japanese culture. 

And not only the sound. In a lofi youtube search, you can find that the visuals that accompany the track follow a deliberate aesthetic choice based on Japanese culture. Whether they are styled as gifs, video, lo fi pictures, or even as lofi games, the visuals tend to follow the same pattern.  

And all of this is not without reason.

The visuals accompanying the track are meant to extend and contribute to the feeling that the sounds bring, whether it is going to be upbeat or sad lofi songs.

But where does it come from?

We already mentioned that the first lo-fi recordings date back to as early as the 1950s, when neither anime nor “youtube lifi” were a thing, at least not for the general US public. Sure, there were cartoons and comics, but not anime in the sense of the specific Japanese cultural aesthetic that modern lo-fi visuals follow, or just anime lofi.

It’s not only for the aesthetics. 

Japanese jazz and lo fi beat maker artists are some of the main contributors to and founders of the entire genre. 

One of the most prominent ones is Nujabes, and if you are a lo-fi admirer you already know why. His jazzy productions and unique use of samples shaped the genre. His work consists of some of the best lo fi hip hop songs out there.

His own influence is drawn from numerous classic and solo jazz artists, combining this with the golden-age tracks of Hip-Hop. 

Black and white picture of a DJ mixing music on his pult

His three studio albums – Metaphorical Music, Modal Soul and Spiritual State – are a staple of the genre, and define Nujabes as being one of the best lo fi artists. It’s quite hard to find a track that is not influenced by or that does not reference his work.

What ties all of this together is what lo-fi is marketed as.  

That is, music meant for sleeping, working or relaxing, combined with visuals that are a distraction that helps you concentrate. 

Why should you listen to lo-fi music?

And the Grammy goes to…lofi playlist Hip-Hop Anime Chillhop Beats to Study and Relax to.

But really.

Even though people make fun (and memes) out of others’ addiction to lo-fi, it’s worth it to give these lofi beats to study to a try. 

And also, why not give it a Grammy as well?

It’s like having your own lofi hip hop background theme in your everyday life. Whether it’s going to be boss fight music or a laid-back track, it’s your own personal music video.

It stirs a certain feeling and it sparks different emotions, and music is meant for that. Sure – it  may be branded as “music for work”, or as some people call it, “modern day elevator music”, but it is much more.

It creates a certain mood that some tracks with vocals do not. Even though it is repetitive, it doesn’t get annoying, since it’s just a lo fi background. 

Lo-fi is passive. 

It does not reach out or try to be any more than that. You can just enjoy it as a secondary presence, rather than a full-on concert you may want to perform when listening to a Lady Gaga song. 

It’s a loop, and a contribution to you living in this exact moment. 

And this is what makes it relatable. 

For the ordinary person, it’s hard to relate to the glamour and posh lifestyle that are often described in pop and hip-hop music. Million dollar mansions, diamonds, fast cars.. It’s not something everybody can relate to, right? 

Now let’s take a look at some chill lofi beats, running-river sounds, and laid-back piano instrumentals. They are much more familiar, relatable, and close to the casual listener. This creates environmental interference that almost everybody can relate to.

Lo-fi is something to help you live in the moment and get through your day. It is something to accompany you in the situations you experience every day. 

And chances are – you have been listening to lo-fi music, without even realizing it. 

For example, some of the calming music tracks you can hear in Taylor Swift’s new album – Folklore, are actually classified as Lo-Fi with a mix of piano tunes. 

What service is best for lo-fi music?

Good old Youtube. 

A simple question – a simple answer.

With a simple search, you can find tons of good lo fi music youtube channels, lofi hip hop radio, and plain lo fi radio channels. And if you do that, you can be sure that you will stumble upon the lofi hip hop girl, a notoriously famous lofi anime character.

And if you are a fan of the tape hiss of cassette culture – treat yourself to some of Nujabes’ albums.

Where is the lo-fi hip hop girl from?

She is actually from the Youtube channel @ChilledCow, and she is a famous lo fi art character that many cover art images in the genre use.

She is associated with studying and relaxing, so you may not find her in lo fi hip hop youtube channel, but rather in those meant for chill.

In conclusion

Try a lofi and chill session.

If you are the type of person that hates the static “noise” of silence, or if you need something to accompany you through your everyday life, why hesitate? If you hate to work or study in silence, go ahead and try some lofi study beats.

I am sure you will like it.

On the other hand, there is a chance you may find it annoying – actually the opposite of what it is meant to be. Some people prefer to work and study in complete silence, and that is okay. In that case, lo-fi is not your cup of tea, and “chill beats to study to” will not be in your Youtube search history.

But if you feel like living in your own music video, then lo-fi could be the right musical complement for you.

And if there are still some things you are wondering about, here is a quick FAQ:

FAQ

Q: What makes a song lo-fi?

A: Lo-fi comes from the term “low fidelity”, which in its simplest terms is the opposite of a high quality production. 

Q: What is the lo-fi genre?

A: Lo-fi is music with saturation distortion. It has elements usually regarded as imperfections in a recording or performance, such as lofi bass as a deliberate aesthetic choice. 

Q: Is lo fi music good for studying?

A: Yes, Lo-Fi music is good for studying, because music subconsciously puts you in the mood for different things. Not only studying, but also for example lofi sleep tracks will help you sleep better.

Q: What does lo fi hip hop mean?

A: Chill hip hop songs refer to a genre of music that mashes up traditional hip-hop and jazz elements to create an atmospheric, instrumental soundscape.



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