Studying or working with music has always been a commonality in helping students and young adults focus on any given task. Of course, this also means that music that helps someone focus may not necessarily be the same. This is where a subgenre of hip-hop called “Lofi” comes into play. But first, what exactly is lofi music? Is it true that it can help people focus? And where can you listen to lofi?
What Is Lofi Music?
Lofi, an abbreviation of low-fidelity, pertains to a music production quality where elements of an imperfect sound are predominantly featured across an arrangement. This sound design is often a deliberate choice which is how the subgenre of hip-hop can have a particularly distinct sound. The beginnings of lofi can be traced back to the 1990s, when it was referred to as DIY music.
Harmonic distortion and analog warmth are the hallmarks of a lofi composition. Additionally, the general raw vibe of a lofi composition comes from misplayed notes, audio interference from the environment as well as phonographic imperfections throughout a measure. Traditionally, these elements are viewed as undesirable, especially when talking in a professional context.
The 1950s – 1970s
DIY music predates recorded history, but the term “lofi,” as it is today, traces back to its origins in the 1950s rock and roll scene. Most of the recordings used within the genre were made with cheap and substandard equipment even at the time. Because of this, most rock music that came out in the 1960s to 1970s can be tagged as “lofi.”
The 1970s – 1980s
With the emergence of a new rock genre in the 1970s, many sectors of popular music then began to gain an interest in incorporating a DIY ethos to their tracks and mixes. This influx heralded a wave of predominantly independent artists and labels, fanzines, and networks. Many bands and even labels at the time were formed under the premise that people could make their music without being subservient to the demands of a label.
Once the new wave of independent creators took hold of the market, the word “indie” was used to solidify their presence. This new genre of music was present during the 1990s. It was a style that is different from the industry’s music labels. Many people branded this emerging genre to be the “alternative” to the dominant version of music at the time. By April 1993, the term “lofi” edifies itself into the mainstream vocabulary.
After this feature, the term “lofi” then gained more and more traction as artists and journalists alike contributed to the alternative genre, albeit not acknowledging the feat themselves.
The 2000s – Present
The rise of digital workspaces in the new millennia rendered the division between professional and non-professional artists null. Many of the prominent artists that rose during the 1990s were able to evolve and adapt their sound to suit a more chill and bedroom vibe. To achieve this, digital artists began looking back into vintage equipment to achieve the raw sounds they could use to complete their arrangements. This raw soundboard, coupled with the current technology, was able to recreate a trend during the 1960s that predominantly used analog synthesizers to create a space-age pop atmosphere.
Several key characteristics define lo-fi sound:
- Drum loops: Much like hip-hop, lofi also makes use of drum loops to create its rhythm and, sometimes, melody. These loops are either digitally produced or recorded live. Although, artists prefer to work with beats with a low BPM (beats per minute) to create the chill vibe that lofi represents.
- Jazz chords: Many artists also feature jazz chords in their compositions for their thoughtful and mellow quality. This allows the artist to create a relaxing and calm space for the listeners and has been a hallmark of the lofi sound during the advent of the digital age. Samples of rhythm — mainly, bass and piano — are staples in the genre, but artists also use horns, guitars, and other instruments depending on the arrangement.
- Samples: Lofi is typically an instrumental music form. To augment such a composition, various samples and effects are used to support the melody and rhythm. To this end, listeners can pick up subtle to very convenient placements of vocals to emphasize a particular vibe of an arrangement. If listeners also pay close attention, they may pick up on a crackle of a vinyl record that suggests an atmosphere of nostalgia.
- Chillhop Music: One of the most prominent lofi creators on YouTube is a channel by the name of Chillhop Music. Chillhop is one of the most prolific sources of lofi music online. Like many other lofi channels, Bas van Leeuwen uses the live stream feature to allow watchers and listeners to connect while the beats play in the background.
- ChilledCow (Now, Lo-Fi Girl): ChilledCow is a music label / YouTube channel that began streaming lofi music in 2017. Their brand of lofi hip-hop features an image of a girl studying with her cat keeping her company at her desk. The girl and her cat are both characters taken from the anime feature “Whisper of the Heart” but have since then gained an identity of her own as more and more fans came in to listen and study with her. Today, she is now a Lo-fi Girl, with tens of thousands of listeners tuning into her while they work on their homework or deliverables for the day.
- College Music: College music is yet another channel on YouTube by Luke Pritchard and Jonny Laxton. The channel currently has millions of people tuning into their space. According to the artists, their channel’s theme mostly revolves around summer jazz and late-night beats to help people focus better and unwind.
- Powfu: This Canadian lofi artist managed to score a colossal hit in 2020 with his lofi hip-hop track “Death Bed (coffee for your head).” This single was able to reach number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart that year.
Where Can You Listen to Lofi Music?
Given that the seeds of lofi took hold of YouTube early in its years, it wasn’t until 2016 that the genre began to pollinate outwards. With the influence of notable channels like ChilledCow / Lo-Fi Girl, College Music, and others, the genre was able to gain traction until it eventually had a dedicated fanbase. These fans mostly enjoy the core embrace of minimalism these channels offer.
With the current landscape of music constantly pushing boundaries in the industry, lofi music present on YouTube has not been behind the trend of adapting and evolving into something much more inclusive and comforting. Lofi channels have since gained a live stream feature where listeners often talk about their day and connect with others. People here tend to tell each other about how their work or life is going while others reach out to the inter for help with their homework.
Of course, that is not the end of lofi’s evolution. Artists like Mr. MoMo feature lofi that revolves around Japanese trap and bass, dubbed “Trapanese”, while Steesyasfuck is a channel that delves more into the coffee shop radio vibe. Whatever artists may come up with, the result is evident: lofi is as adaptable as any genre of music present in the world today.
It is no surprise that Spotify streams lofi music. The platform, after all, mostly has mood-based and activity-based music curation and creation. Not only does it help listeners explore their very own niche of tastes, but Spotify also helps artists gain more exposure by using a hybridized algorithm-based curation. These hybridized algorithms allow independent creators to be able to push their arrangements to the greater public much more easily and in turn, make revenue for their craft.
The trend in Spotify currently is to highlight music enthusiasts from passive listeners. In layman’s terms, Spotify’s algorithm works in such a way that listeners often lose themselves during a playlist and allow listeners to discover new music using that method. As an added benefit, this method also allows listeners to keep an open mind during tracks. This means that people will be more open to listening to music outside of their current tastes and explore more genres of songs.
Lofi enthusiasts can also find playlists on Spotify, both independent and branded, that dedicate tracks to help people revel in the ambiance of each composition. Listeners can search by track and playlists like Lush Vibes, Jazz Vibes, and Lofi Hip-Hop.
For context, Twitch is pretty strict when it comes to the choices of music their creators choose to incorporate in their streams. To resolve this ongoing conflict, Twitch has introduced a new tool that creators can utilize called Soundtrack by Twitch. This tool allows streamers to be able to add licensed music whenever they create content.
At launch, Soundtrack by Twitch was working with a variety of artists and partners. This is because Twitch didn’t have agreements with the major labels and creators themselves. Instead, the initial lineup of supported partners included Soundcloud, Monstercat, Distrokid, CDBaby, Empire, Westwood Recordings, United Masters, Alpha Pup, Popgang, Text Me Records, Dim Mak, Create Music Group, Chillhop Music, Anjunabeats, Soundstripe, LabelWork, mxmtoon, future classic, Nuclear Blast, Season of Mist, Chilled Cow, Pure Noise Records, Symphonic, Blkbox, and Songtradr.
The launch of Soundtrack by Twitch separated music into its audio channel. Streamers can access this channel to play ambient tracks to make their content more engaging. This also helps streamers play music under Twitch’s protection to avoid receiving strikes against their streams. Creators will also be able to choose from a set of stations curated by Twitch depending on the genre they want to play like “just chilling,” “lofi hip-hop beats,” and many others.
Lofi’s Impact on Pop Culture
Today, lofi has garnered so much popularity that people now often use it to help them focus during their work or studies. People use lofi music to relax or even just fill the silence inside a space. Depending on the type of artists people listen to, the arrangements of lofi tracks available can greatly vary. Some artists have a jazzy vibe to a trap arrangement that can help people get pumped during a gaming session.
Lofi songs that are garnering traction in this current day and age are mostly inspired by the R&B and hip-hop styles prevalent during the 1990s. This trend may seem like stealing, but it isn’t. This recurring hype is more attributed to hauntology. A form of recurrence refers to using elements from the past and utilizing it to make newer content. Of course, these samples are bought so that artists can have an easier time tinkering with the sounds.
There are more sides to lofi than what people can listen to online as well. There are plenty of various iterations and combinations that contribute to the expansion of the genre. Mixes such as lofi rap, lofi pop, and even lofi concerts are not as prominent as their online counterparts. These forms of lofi are still very much classified within the genre and the art form.
Lofi and YouTube
The lofi hip-hop community on youtube is one of the most wholesome places anyone can visit online. It is a space of people vibe to Lo-Fi Girl’s tunes exchanging messages in the live chat feature. During the height of the pandemic, it has been especially hard for people to regain a sense of community. YouTube, more specifically, lofi channels, serve to be the bridge for one person to be able to communicate.
Over the recent months to a year, the viewership of lofi channels on YouTube has grown exponentially. Artists note that since the pandemic started, more and more people have been tuning into their mixes. Audiences also describe the experience as visiting an old Tumblr blog. It just comes with a soundtrack you can vibe with and a live chat mechanic.
Unlike traditional YouTube videos, lofi channels have a unique tool that distinguishes them from other creators. The live chat tool has become instrumental over the years. The convenience of allowing people from various parts of the world to communicate. Now, this mechanic amplifies the usual energy and hype of the regular comments section.
Lofi in Study and Work
Many listeners attest that retro-sounding melodies encapsulate the essence of a lofi composition. Couple this with the absence of jarring and often distracting vocals, and lofi makes for the ideal background music. Lofi is so much more than just creating a barrier of music for yourself from distracting noises as well.
There is evidence that suggests the neuropsychological effects of listening to music that can help someone focus. This allows a particular mental state to be attained that is favorable when doing concentration-intensive tasks such as studying.
Studies also suggest that lofi shares several qualities present in actual study music. The same qualities enable people to regain and achieve a higher sense of focus. This, in turn, leads to higher productivity among students and office workers alike.
Listen to Lofi Music Today
People may see lofi as simple and, oftentimes, repetitive. Even with these defectors, many people still appreciate the existence of the genre. This is how it maintains its popularity despite many people saying it is an otherwise boring genre of music.
We can argue if lo-fi hip hop will be influential, or it is just hype. But looking at its growth every year, it seems like lofi will be around for many years to come.