How To Make LoFi Beats
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 lofi 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 find great jazz songs to sample on YouTube. Simply use an online YouTube to MP3 converter to convert the video into a song file. Then you can upload that mp3 into your DAW to chop.
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.
If you prefer not to sample and want to play and add your own brass one of your best and most budget friend option is Muted Trumpet Harmon Kontakt Library. Harmon Mutes have captured the imagination of music aficionados across the world through amazing performances from artists like Miles Davis. Today Harmon Mutes are played all over the globe by professional orchestras, soloists, recording artists, and students alike. Add a reverb to your muted trumpet to give it a warm and colorful sound. This VST is a very cost effective way to add quality trumpets to your lo.fi beats.
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.
Room Piano is a light piano plugin for musicians who want to add a lo-fi touch to their tracks. The living room piano has been sampled in 2 velocities every 3 semitones to keep it CPU friendly. The plugin is based on an upright acoustic piano 24-bit stereo recording.
Features of the plugin version:
1 lightweight piano sound (60 MB)
3 voice modes: polyphonic, monophonic, and legato
A lo-fi favorite is a deep sub-bass. Search for “deep bass” or ”sub” in Instrument presets to find a good one.
One of my favorite bass VST's is Trilian Total Bass Module by Spectrasonics, if you are looking for a realistic sounding acoustic bass this is an excellent option.
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 beats should be chill and minimalistic. Play around with the scale notes of the key until you find something you like.
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.
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.
One of the best plugins to get this effect is the RC-20 Retro Color Plugin by XNL Audio, I use this plugin on just about all of my LoFi beats. RC-20 Retro Color is a creative effect plugin that easily recreates the warm feeling of vintage recording equipment. It adds life and texture to any recording, and also works perfectly in any modern production setting.
For some examples of LoFi and Chillhop beats, take a listen to the tracks below.
Some additional resources: