Isaque Criscuolo
Isaque Criscuolo
@isaque.criscuolo
Music & audio

What is Lo-Fi Music and Why is it Perfect for Relaxing?

  • by Isaque Criscuolo @isaque.criscuolo

Discover the origins of low-fidelity music, and how the mellow beats help people to de-stress, focus, study, and sleep

A popular subgenre of electronic music, thousands of people all over the world use the relaxing rhythms lo-fi music to help them concentrate on studies or work and to relax. You might be reading this listening to a lo-fi playlist in the background, on a loop...

Lo-fi music provided relief to many during recent pandemic lockdowns and caught the attention of the indie music industry in the process.

Streaming platforms like Spotify, Deezer, and Apple Music jumped on the trend too, creating exclusive playlists that hit millions of plays. The number of YouTube channels dedicated to the genre went through the roof, along with livestreams promoting the work of lo-fi artists.

But what is lo-fi, where did it begin, and why is it so successful right now?

Easier access to IT and audio editing software makes it easier to make your own music. Illustration by Maja Dabek.
Easier access to IT and audio editing software makes it easier to make your own music. Illustration by Maja Dabek.

What are the characteristics of lo-fi music?

A popular subgenre of electronic music, lo-fi music's characteristic features include "imperfections" like incorrect notes, background noise, and low-quality audio—all of which used to be looked down on by industry players.

Most lo-fi tunes are instrumental, influenced by genres like boom-bap, jazz, funk, and electro. Tracks use hip-hop beats and looped samples to evoke positive emotions, feelings of relaxation, and nostalgia. They also often include the sound of animals, nature, the sea, disco noise, or other recordings from daily life.

Lo-fi is not to be confused with ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). While ASMR includes sounds that provoke physical relaxation, lo-fi tunes are an artistic creation that may include elements of ASMR, but go a lot further.

Thousands of people use Lo-Fi to concentrate on tasks like study, work or just to relax.
Thousands of people use Lo-Fi to concentrate on tasks like study, work or just to relax.

A quick history of lo-fi music

Lo-fi emerged out of DIY music and has gone through various transformations over the years, catalyzed by advances in technology.

- 1950s: The term lo-fi was first used in the 1950s as an abbreviation of low-fidelity, meaning low-quality music recordings, associated with "homemade" productions created outside of a professional studio. The genre became popular with young people who began experimenting with affordable equipment.

- 1960s: The movement gave rise to the use of classic distortion and cassette tape sounds. In the late 1960s, US band The Beach Boys became one of the first major acts associated with the lo-fi musical aesthetic.

- 1980s: Lo-fi came back into fashion in the 1980s with the work of DJ William Berger, who dedicated a slot on his radio show at independent Jersey-based station WFMU to broadcasting homemade recordings.

Technology is essential to creating Lo-Fi music as we know it today.
Technology is essential to creating Lo-Fi music as we know it today.

Over time, the term because to mean more than just low-quality sounds, evolving into a musical aesthetic adopted by underground indie rock bands like early Beck, The Frogs, and The Mountain Goats.

Some people believe modern lo-fi music has its origins in ambient house and chill-out music, popular in London toward the end of the 1980s.

Importantly, throughout history, lo-fi has been driven by the idea that music doesn’t have to be perfect or created with expensive equipment. You can make your own beats at home, on your computer, or on a mobile phone—the only thing you need is a little creativity.

The rise of lo-fi

While lo-fi music sprang from various sources through the late twentieth century, the genre began to take on its current form in the 2000s, under the influence of Japanese music producer Nujabes.

He redefined lo-fi through his work on the Samurai Champloo anime series broadcast in 2005. Slower rhythms, jazz, and hip-hop sounds made his music a global phenomenon.

It was also during this time that people began to have access to personal computers and audio editing software, such as Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton, and GarageBand, which facilitated the creation and distribution of DIY music.

Platforms like Soundcloud, YouTube and Grooveshark played a key role in popularizing lo-fi.
Platforms like Soundcloud, YouTube and Grooveshark played a key role in popularizing lo-fi.

At the same time, platforms like Soundcloud, YouTube, and Grooveshark played a key role in popularizing lo-fi compositions.

YouTube channel Lofi Girl is a great example. Its livestreams can last over 100 hours and its playlist includes a range of known and unknown artists.

With over ten million subscribers, the channel also functions as an indie music label, reviving the market and helping artists promote their work.

Between January and September 2020 alone, Google searches for the word lo-fi increased 85%, and its success continues to this day.

Lofi Girl.
Lofi Girl.

If you’d like to explore this genre in more depth and learn how to create, produce and edit gentle lo-fi rhythms, by combining the key elements of music composition, check out musician and composer Charles Jacques' course, Create Lo-Fi Beats with Ableton Live and Push.

For more, take a look at all of Domestika’s
online music production courses
.

English version by @studiogaunt.

You may also like:

- 5 Websites with Sounds to Improve Your Focus
- How to Set up a Sound Recording Studio at Home
- Introduction to Percussion: Discover the Magic of Rhythm, a course by Carlinhos Brown
- Music Production for Films, a course by Simon Smith

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