If You Want to Work, Sleep, or Daydream, Listen to Lo-Fi

Sometimes I have trouble being productive. There are days when I wake up and three hours later, I’m ready to hit my pillow and curl up with my Pikachu stuffy. But, then I get the inspiration to write a poem. I start typing furiously on the keyboard until my fingers stiffen and cramp up after 10 minutes. This is when I notice it’s 2 am and should go to bed despite wanting to get all of my ideas down. 

Other times, maybe it’s not being productive; it’s having some peace of mind. Like when I worry about paying my bills on time. Or when I have too many thoughts and silence only makes them louder. In these situations, the first thing I do is listen to lo-fi music. It keeps me awake until all of my inspiration has manifested onto the page and calms me down when I’m stressed. Lo-fi music is like a balm of aloe on a wound: soothing. For this article, we’re going to dive into exactly what lo-fi is and how it works. 

Origin of Lo-fi

Lo-fi stands for “low fidelity,” which refers to music containing imperfections in the track. It could be a crackling sound in the background (think of the sound of a burned out cassette tape), sometimes harmonic distortions, grainy (degraded) audio, tape hiss. The term was first coined in the 1990s by William Berger on his weekly half-hour radio show, Low-Fi, on WFMU, a New Jersey-based independent radio. Lo-fi or “low fidelity” music has been identifiable since the 1950s when advancements in recording technologies improved production standards of the music industry, creating “high fidelity” music free of production imperfections.

The term became associated with a DIY ethos; it’s attached to amateur artists without professional experience, training, or equipment. The popular image of a lo-fi artist is one who makes mixes and sounds in their bedroom (this is also where the term “bedroom pop,” another genre, finds it aesthetic). 

Some identify the genre as originally being a subculture of boom bap (a musical production style of hip-hop). Many examples now contain elements from downtempo, ambient, chillhop, and orchestra instrumentals. Most importantly perhaps are the two genres that give lo-fi its signature rhythm and structure: hip-hop and jazz, hence the two sub-categories hip-hop lo-fi and jazz lo-fi (which are often blended in one song).

Lo-fi’s Signature Samples

Many songs within the genre have hip-hop beats. There are frequent samplings as well; audio from games, dialogue from old movies or anime, sounds of the natural environment (like rain, waves, cars). The sounds add brightness and texture. The beats add structure and ground the usually ambient, airy melodies. The samplings insert meaning into what would otherwise be a simple looping riff. Samples from old hip-hop songs are my favorite thing about this sub-category: they bring consciousness, deeper meaning and even cultural significance to the song. With jazz lo-fi, the instrumentals are soulful and smokey, adding a layer of depth to the melodic aspects. All of these elements combined produce an atmospheric experience that can be meditative and thoughtful, and especially nostalgic. I often use lo-fi to regulate my energy and help me concentrate when I’m writing, reading, or just thinking. 

Popularity and Criticism

Lo-fi has become normalized in the music community through playlists and 24-hour radio stations on Youtube over the past several years. With this popularity, some listeners and even artists believe that the genre has become stale and meme-like. Since lo-fi is presented as studying or sleeping music, it implies that the music isn’t meant to be the focus of someone’s attention. This suggests that these songs are only background noise. Others argue that their grievances are that the genre has been watered down.

This may be caused by the trend of associating any ambient song as lo-fi. Still, more say that the issue is the similarity of songs, making a lo-fi playlist of 20 songs feel like one. Although, I don’t think the genre has been watered down, I agree that a lot of artists tend to sound too similar. Of course, this can be said at some point about every musical genre. Therefore, it’s the job of the next generation of lo-fi artists to refresh the genre. 

When I write poems, I frequently cite lo-fi artists or songs as inspirations because for me, their music becomes the theme of my day. Even though playlists suggest that lo-fi is good for sleeping, sometimes I find myself just sitting by the window, watching the world outside. For me, each song is a snapshot. Sometimes they’re different scenes or the same from varying angles. If you let yourself fade into the beats or fall into the gentle piano, you’ll find yourself in a dreamy world of sound and calm energy. That’s why it’s also meditative: sometimes you can’t fully appreciate something until you wade in it long enough. 

Here is a list of some of my favorite, unique lo-fi artists: 

Most if not all of these artists also have Spotify and Youtube channels. I’d definitely suggest checking them out! Maybe I’ll share a lo-fi playlist in the near future.

Dynas Johnson

Music Writer

Dynas Johnson is a rising senior at Temple University, majoring in English with a Creative Writing Concentration. She is an editor for SONKU, a writing collective for black poets created at Temple University, and a writer for The Atmosphere Magazine. When she is not writing, she can be found wandering Philadelphia and listening to lofi playlists.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.