Nothing beats having some lo-fi hip hop on in the background while relaxing or studying. 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. You could call it the modern answer to lounge music, thanks to its minimalist instrumental approach.
This tutorial will help you make dusty lo-fi hip hop beats in Soundation’s online studio. You can also download the project file for free here.
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 use the loops in the Soundation 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 spin on it. (BTW: “Flipping a sample” means to chop it up and rearrange it in a new way.) You could also try reversing or pitch-stretching the clips to get a different sound.
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.) Use the lo-fi drum kit on the SPC to get the right sound. Pick a slow tempo, around 60-90 BPM, and create a backbeat pattern. 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.
A lo-fi favorite is a deep sub-bass. (The preset “Deep Bass” on The Wub Machine is a good choice.) 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. 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.
If you don’t want to use samples at all, you’ll need to create your own chords. You can also use the Scale Navigator to find what chords you can use in your key. 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. Use the GM-2 or SAM-1 for sampled instruments like piano and guitar.
Creating melodies is a lot like creating basslines, just with higher notes. Play around with the scale notes of the key until you find something you like. The melodies in lo-fi hip hop should be chill and minimalistic. They can be played by the same instrument that plays the chords, or a separate one. If you want to bring in a new sound that’s not a guitar or piano, there are plenty of other jazz instruments to choose from. Brass, woodwind, strings, and mallets are all good choices that you can find in GM-2 and SAM-1.
The degraded quality might come with an old vinyl sample, but when using virtual instruments, we have to shape these sounds with effects. 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, 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.
To finish off the beat, we 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. 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 library by searching “vinyl”. Use multiple layers of different types of noise and mix them to your own taste.