In a world obsessed with perfection, a quiet revolution is taking place. It embraces the raw, unpolished, and purposely imperfect. We’re talking about the fascinating rise of lo-fi music. Every snap, crackle, and pop in a recording feels comforting, like a warm hug from an old sweater. In this guide, we will answer the question, “What is lo-fi music?”, learn about its history and typical uses, and provide a free resource to try this music genre in your videos.
What is Lo-Fi Music?
“Lo-fi” is an abbreviation for “low fidelity” and describes music with imperfections like background noise and tape hiss. In polished or high-quality recordings, we typically view these qualities as undesirable. However, lo-fi music is designed to sound raw, unedited, and nostalgic.
The term “lo-fi music,” popularized by radio DJ William Berger in 1986, gained broader recognition in the 1990s but was applied inconsistently to many different styles. Although music enthusiasts now accept lo-fi as a music genre, the term describes a recording style rather than a specific genre.
History of the Genre
New wave and punk rock music led to the rise of the DIY movement in the late 1970s. This movement brought independent record labels, distribution networks, and recording studios. Many guitar bands formed because they believed they could produce and release music without a major label contract.
In 1976, R. Stevie Moore released an album called ‘Phonography’ in which he recorded all the tracks outside the traditional music studio. Soon after release, the album received some notoriety in the punk and new wave scenes of New York. According to Matthew Ingram of The Wire, Moore “might not have been the first rock musician to go entirely solo, recording every part from drums to guitar… However, he was the first to explicitly aestheticize the home recording process itself… making him the great-grandfather of lo-fi.”
Critics generally did not appreciate the flaws of the music until the 1980s, when there was an emergent romanticism for home recording and a “do-it-yourself” style of music. More artists were making music with basic equipment and often recorded it in their bedrooms, not studios, leading to the nearly synonymous term “bedroom pop.”
By the end of the 1980s, people used terms like “home-recorded,” “technically primitive,” and “inexpensive equipment” in conjunction with the phrase “lo-fi.” Throughout the 1990s, these concepts became essential to how “lo-fi” was understood.
Contemporary Lo-Fi Music
Lo-fi music evolved into new genres in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. It inspired different subgenres and styles like “lo-fi house” and “lo-fi pop,” which are becoming more popular in diverse music scenes and subcultures. Online sites like SoundCloud and YouTube contributed to the genre’s popularity due to its calm, sample-based sound. It became connected with playlists for relaxation, study, and sleep.
An example of a Pond5 Artist with a robust collection of lo-fi hip-hop and jazz on their page is Blueberrystudio. An excellent sample track is Good Day. You can feel your brain relaxing within seconds of listening to it.
A strong influence from the internet and social media led to the current rise of lo-fi music. Aided by YouTube’s launch of continuous live streaming for all users in 2013, lo-fi music made a massive breakthrough into the mainstream over the last decade. In 2021, a well-known channel named ChilledCow became Lofi Girl. They stream endless lo-fi beats along with an animated study session featuring an anime-style girl (introduced in 2017 as “Study Girl”).
Lo-fi has its own visual and cultural aesthetic, frequently including retro and nostalgic artwork, animation, and references to Japanese anime and manga. This aesthetic component has become essential to the genre’s identity.
Background Music: You will often hear lo-fi music playing in the background of various locations, including study sessions, workplaces, and coffee shops. It’s also a perfect complement to yoga and meditation classes. Its relaxing and inconspicuous characteristics create a comfortable environment.
Streaming: Lo-fi music, particularly lo-fi hip-hop, is frequently streamed on platforms such as YouTube and Spotify. Many YouTube channels and playlists curate and promote lo-fi music, delivering a steady stream of mellow beats to fans.
Podcasts: Podcasts use lo-fi music to set the tone or as interstitial music between segments. It can make listening more immersive and enjoyable.
Independent Music Releases: Many independent musicians create and release lo-fi music themselves, using platforms like Bandcamp. The genre is more accessible to artists since expensive studio equipment is unnecessary.
Free Track & Lo-Fi Collection
In an era of digital perfection, the unrefined allure of lo-fi music offers an alternative. Use it in your next project to invite listeners to feel calm and comfortable and to free their minds from distractions. A Pond5 music subscription provides access to many original Lo-Fi tracks. Try one risk-free by downloading this complimentary inspirational track of uplifting and motivational music with guitar harmonics and piano melodies.