Whether it was to study, work, or even relax, you’ve probably listened to lo-fi music before. Lo-fi gets its worldwide appeal from its remarkably soft beats, which have an exceptional ability to set a calm, focused mood for its listeners. Many people use music as an escape or support system in a chaotic world, which is why lo-fi music has been, and still is rising in popularity.
Lo-fi is taking the music scene by storm on social media. Lofi Girl, a YouTube channel that streams lo-fi music as an animated girl studies, has soared to over 13 million subscribers.
It’s not just Lofi Girl. There are an endless amount of musicians (and listeners) who are eager to showcase and develop the art of lo-fi music around the world.
Despite lo-fi being a relatively new music genre, the talents of passionate artists allowed it to bloom, securing its presence in the music world.
The Not-So-Detailed Detail Behind Lo-fi’s Calming Sound
You may think that lo-fi’s serene melody comes from artists’ unreal precision, but that cannot be further from the truth. In reality, the beauty of lo-fi music comes from its imperfections, particularly in sound quality or fidelity. In essence, fidelity refers to a sound’s accuracy from its source, which is why lo-fi, or low fidelity, has its name.
Lo-fi is unique because of its low sound quality, wielding its lack of depth in each beat to bring out an authentic sound, seamlessly moving your body and heart into tranquility. Its defining “imperfections” can take many forms, like misplayed notes, substandard equipment, ambiance, and other distortions that alter the music.
Some of lo-fi’s more significant audio characteristics are harmonic distortion and analog warmth. Harmonic distortion consists of artificially added frequencies onto the original sound, contributing to the “warmth” and even the lowering of audio fidelity. Analog warmth contributes to lo-fi’s distinct sound quality even more, produced by subtle distortions associated with analog audio equipment.
Among many other “imperfections” musicians leverage, harmonic distortion and analog warmth are vital in creating the authentic, raw “feel” that makes lo-fi so enjoyable.
Lo-fi Music’s Rock n’ Roll Origins
As rock n’ roll was flourishing throughout the United States in the 1950s, musicians continued to break the limits of what their art was capable of. One of the innovations that rock musicians introduced to the American music industry was the cheap and quick production of their works, ushering in the rise of lo-fi music.
Technically, many rock n’ roll styles, like earlier tracks from the ’40s and ’50s, garage rock from the ’60s, and even punk rock from the ’70s, could be labeled as lo-fi music. Some rock artists even experimented by doubling down on lo-fi’s production qualities.
In 1967, The Beach Boys recorded lo-fi albums Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, primarily in the band’s home studio. And though many people were disappointed with the albums’ diminished quality, other musicians soon created similar types of music, most notably the Beatles’ 24-time platinum-certified White Album, bringing more appreciation to the lo-fi style.
Lo-fi music only continued to solidify its presence in the music scene as punk rock and new wave surfaced in the 70s, especially when the concept of DIY music started gathering attention. Renowned lo-fi artists like R. Stevie Moore and Calvin Johnson were significant leaders in popularizing lo-fi music. Eventually, lo-fi rose to become a style of popular music in the 90s, and it didn’t stop there. With the rise of laptops, lo-fi music continues to thrive as passionate artists from all around the globe constantly innovate the genre.