How to make lo-fi hip hop
Make your own lo-fi hip hop beat with Soundation — the easy-to-use online studio. Use ready-to-go instrument presets, samples, and loops produced for lo-fi hip hop.
What is lo-fi hip hop?
You might have seen the anime girl studying and listening to relaxing beats on the lo-fi hip hop radio stream. The chill nature and minimalist instrumental approach make lo-fi hip hop the modern answer to lounge and background music.
Stylistically, it mixes jazz with boom bap hip hop. Lo-fi stands for “low fidelity,” referring to the degraded sound quality and artifacts of old-school samplers, vinyl records, and cassettes. The imperfections give the beats character and a nostalgic vibe.
A common practice in lo-fi hip hop is sampling old jazz records. Sampling is when you take a snippet of a song and recycle it to make something new. You can either import audio files into Soundation or use the loops in the Sound library. Piano and guitar are the most commonly used instruments in lo-fi hip hop and make a great starting point.
Flip the sample to put your own spin on it. This means chopping up and rearranging it in a new way. You could also try reversing or pitch-stretching the clips to get a different sound.
Lo-fi drum kit
The drums in lo-fi hip hop are inspired by boom bap, which was a hip hop style popular around New York in the mid-’80s to early ‘90s. Boom bap producers would often sample real drums from soul records. You can find drum loops in the Sound library. If you want to create your own drum pattern, go to Instrument presets and search for ”lo-fi” to find the Lo-fi kit.
Lo-fi drum pattern
The tempos of lo-fi hip hop beats are usually pretty slow at around 60-90 BPM. There is a common beat pattern that is a good starting point that you can adjust to taste.
When dividing a bar into fours, the kick will fall on beat 1, in-between 2-3, and in-between 3-4. Add more kicks or move the existing ones around for a more unique beat.
The snare or clap will fall on beats 2 and 4.
It’s typical for the hi-hats to play 8th notes but feel free to experiment.
When it comes to lo-fi hip hop, it’s important to have a loose groove. Nudge the drum hits a little to the left or right of the grid. This will humanize the rhythm and make it sound less robotic.
- Lo-fi hip hop drum beat
A lo-fi favorite is a deep sub-bass. Search for “deep bass” or ”sub” in Instrument presets to find a good one.
If you want to add a bassline to a sample, it’s a lot easier if you know what notes you can use. Look up the key of the sample, and then you can use a website like the Scale Navigator on Scales Chords if you’re not that familiar with music theory.
Use the scale notes and try coming up with a bassline that matches well with the sample. Keep it simple, and connect the notes by using short transition notes.
Lo-fi chords and melody
If you don’t want to use samples or loops, you can find instruments in Instrument presets. As already mentioned, piano and guitar are really common lo-fi hip hop instruments but brass, woodwind, strings, and mallets are great choices too.
The chords are important for creating a jazzy vibe. Normal major and minor chords have three notes, but jazz chords have four or more. The extra notes make them more colorful.
Search for ”lo-fi chords” or ”color chords” in MIDI chord progressions to find suitable pre-made chord progressions. The melodies in lo-fi hip hop should be chill and minimalistic. Play around with the scale notes of the key until you find something you like.
- Lo-fi hip hop chords and melody
The degraded quality might come for free with an old vinyl sample, but when using virtual instruments, we have to shape them with effects to get the lo-fi sound. The Degrader effect may sound like an obvious choice, and it is! This effect emulates the distortion of early digital samplers or game consoles.
If you remove the bass and treble from a sound with the Parametric EQ or Filter, you can imitate the tone of a cassette, vinyl record, or even a radio speaker.
Another sought-after artifact is the classic pitch wobble of tape machines and turntables. This is known as “wow” and “flutter,” where “wow” is a slow pitch variation and “flutter” is a fast one. In Soundation, you can choose either as a preset in the Phaser.
- Lo-fi hip hop effects | Before
- Lo-fi hip hop effects | After
To finish off the beat, you can add the noise and artifacts you would hear on vinyl records and cassettes. To get static noise similar to that of a cassette tape, you can use the Noiser instrument. Make sure to EQ out the bass and treble and keep it at a low volume.
The best way to get some cozy vinyl crackle is by using samples. Find them in the Soundation Sound library by searching “vinyl”. Use multiple layers of different types of noise and mix them to your own taste.
- Lo-fi hip hop noise