How to Make LoFi Music

How to Make LoFi Music How to Make LoFi Music

There’s nothing quite like the soothing crackle of vinyl and the buttery warmth of dusty drums and samples that lo-fi music offers. 

Ironically enough, it seems that the greater industry has been on a continuous pursuit to find the highest audio fidelity ever since the advent of digital recording. However, an increasing number of producers are looking to take advantage of the quirks of reel-to-reel recording in the lossless digital world today. The question, of course, then becomes, how can I make my music that’s recorded so pristinely sound “lo-fi?”

In this guide, we’ll examine the distinctive characteristics that define the lo-fi style, dissect why these qualities are so attractive and thought-provoking, and look into the art of creating our own lo-fi music from the comfort of your own home studio.

The Origins of LoFi Music

The term "lo-fi" first came into prominence in the mid-20th century. It was originally used as an abbreviation for "low-fidelity," signifying a lower quality of audio than what people were used to with professional recordings. 

It was during this time that young musicians from various backgrounds felt inspired to create their own music using the available equipment and gear of that time, and much of that equipment was far from “top-tier/”

We began hearing the now-distinctive elements of lo-fi that we’ve come to know and love, including fuzz, distortion, fuzziness, and tape warble. It might surprise you to find out that The Beach Boys were one of the pioneering 20th-century acts to harness this home recording equipment when they recorded “Smiley, Smile” in Brian Wilson’s home living room. 

When the 1980s and 90s rolled around, "lo-fi" underwent a transformation. It evolved from merely describing lower-quality music into a burgeoning cultural movement characterized by the underground DIY attitude of indie rock bands. Some of the most notable bands of this time included The Frogs, Pavement, and Beach. 

It wasn’t until the 2010s that contemporary lo-fi music began appearing on YouTube’s livestream channel. Lo-fi artists began curating playlists on platforms like YouTube and other streaming services, drawing inspiration from the laid-back hip-hop beats on J Dilla and the lo-fi chill-hop aesthetic of Nujabes.

In fact, it was  Nujabes's iconic soundtrack for the 2004 animated series Samurai Champloo that established a lasting connection between lo-fi music and anime.

Subgenres of LoFi Music

With decades of inspiration to draw from DIY artists of the 20 century, it’s not difficult to believe that numerous subgenres have emerged within the realm of lo-fi music. 

However, while most of these subgenres have diverse sets of individual characteristics, most of them incorporate elements that tie them together, such as dusty drum beats and grainy textures.

Let's take a look at some of the most prominent lo-fi subgenres.

Lofi Hip-Hop

Under the larger umbrella of the lo-fi genre, we have lo-fi hip-hop, which pretty much serves as the genre's ambassador. The origins of this subgenre come from the realms of 90s hip-hop and jazz.

This subgenre places a significant emphasis on incorporating elements like jazzy chord progressions, ambient textures, and sampled drums.

When putting lo-fi hip-hop tracks together, it's pretty common for producers to incorporate elements like tape hiss and vinyl crackles to give their tracks a nostalgic ambiance.

A few of the most prominent figures in the lofi hip-hop subgenre include Nujabes, J Dilla, and Tomppabeats.

Check out the video above to get a better idea of how J-Dilla put his beats together.


One of my absolute favorite subgenres in the lofi music realm is chillhop, which blends together elements from both electronic music and hip-hop in a laid-back manner. 

Some of the main characteristics of this subgenre include slower tempo drum grooves, organic melodic sounds, and, rich, immersive soundscapes.

Noteworthy artists in chillhop include Sleepy Fish, Kupla, and Jinsang.

Lofi House

If the name didn't make it clear enough, lo-fi house represents a fusion of lo-fi artistic sensibilities with elements from the world of house music.

This subgenre stands out from your typical house music for its utilization of raw, low-resolution drum samples, warm, analog-style synths, and consistent four-on-the-floor grooves.

Some of the main production techniques you'll find in lo-fi house music include bit-crushing and tape saturation. Analog warmth is also a crucial factor here. When put together, you get an textured yet dance-friendly combo.

Within the realm of lo-fi house, some of the most notable artists include DJ Boring, Ross from Friends, DJ Seinfeld, Mall Grab, and Delroy Edwards.

Lofi Ambient

Lo-fi ambient music seamlessly blends the ethereal textures of ambient, experimental music with the inviting roughness and warmth of lo-fi.

Within this subgenre, you’ll often find long, continuous tracks at slow tempos, with drone-like pads, field recordings, and sparse arrangements. Unlike other genres, lo-fi ambient music tends to use minimal or very subdued percussion, allowing the focus to be on the ambient textures.

Most ambient lo-fi music aims to evoke feelings of tranquility and introspection making it great for activities like yoga and meditation.

Some of my favorite artists from the lo-fi ambient realm include L’eoscombu Couti, Grouper, and Terekke.

Lofi Indie Rock

Lo-fi indie rock has become hugely popular over the past decade. 

This subgenre is characterized by twangy, jangly guitars, steady, minimalistic drum arrangments, reverb-drenched vocals, and dreamy modulation pedals. 

Many lo-fi indie rock producers stray away from modern equipment, recording on analog cassette decks and tape machines to achieve a warm, vintage sound before transitioning to digital for final production.

Some of the most popular lofi indie rock artists include The Microphones, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Mac Demarco.


Lastly, we have vaporwave, which emerged on the internet in the early 2010s. 

It is known for its distinctive blend of nostalgic and surreal aesthetics, which often draw from 1980s and 1990s commercial and consumer culture. 

The sounds themselves often draw from R&B and elevator music of the same era, though samples are often slowed down, chopped up, and manipulated to create a dreamier, more nostalgic atmosphere.

It’s also worth noting that vaporwave is its own umbrella with a vast number of subgenre offshoots, including Future Funk, which focuses more on catchy hooks and dance beats, and Vaportrap, which, as you may have guessed, pulls from elements of trap music.

Basic Characteristics of Lofi Music

Though we’ve slightly discussed a few of the characteristics of lo-fi music, let’s look at some more specific elements you can expect to find.

  • Imperfections: One of the most crucial elements of lo-fi is that it’s not perfect. You can expect to hear minor recording flaws or quirks, such as tape hiss and background noise, which make it sound more authentic. Producers will often “humanize” their tracks rather than quantizing them to get that organic feel.
  • Simplicity: Contrary to modern pop tracks, which often feature dense arrangments and complex production techniques, lo-fi compositions are often simple and minimalistic in terms of their arrangements, focusing more on the atmosphere than anything else.
  • Sampling: Though it’s more common in subgenres like lofi hip-hop and vaporwave, sampling pretty common under the greater umbrella of lo-fi.
  • Chill Vibes : Creating a relaxed, contemplative atmosphere is key when making lo-fi music, which is why the “lo-fi beats to study to” playlist theme is so prominent to this day.
  • Diverse Influences: Lo-fi music draws from a vast pool of influences, including jazz, folk, hip-hop, and electronic music.
  • Saturation: Gentle tape saturation is somewhat of a staple of lo-fi music, and it’s one of the best ways to get that signature warmth.

Getting Your Workspace in Order

Lofi music is all about atmosphere, so it makes sense that you’re in a space where you feel comfortable and inspired. I can't stress the important of "vibe" enough. -

Even if you don’t have a “home studio,” it’s important to find a quiet and comfortable space where you can work without distractions. Unless you’re working with headphones on, it’s a good idea to make sure the room has decent acoustics, as this can impact the quality of your mixes. 

Make sure your workspace is clutter-free too. Organize your cables, equipment, and instruments to minimize visual distractions and make your workflow more functional. 

As you’ll likely be using samples in your production, I recommend setting up a system for organizing your files. Create sample and loop folders with clear and descriptive names, so that when inspiration strikes, you don’t have to spend ten minutes looking for that snare you really like.

Top Lofi Effects Plugins

If you’re working completely “in the box” and need some plugins to give your music that distinctive lo-fi quality, here are some of my favorites to get you started.

XLN RC-20 Retro Color

RC-20 Retro Color might be one of my most highly used plugins, regardless of whether I’m making lo-fi music or not.  This super versatile tool was made to emulate the sounds of vintage, analog gear, offering a wide range of individual tools for adding character to your audio.

You’ll find five different modules, giving you access to effects like distortion, bit-crushing, tape emulation, reverb, and more, as well as a customizable noise generator for adding vinyl crackle and other ambient noise to your tracks.

D16 Group Decimort 2

Vintage samplers are hallmarks of lo-fi music production, as they deliver crunchy, degraded grit that perfectly captures the overall vibe. 

Decimort 2 emulates a wide range of vintage samplers and hardware, giving you access to a high level of sample rate reduction and bit crushing like no other plugin on the market. 

Favorite Pieces of Hardware for Lofi Music Production

Roland SP-404 MKII

The Roland SP-404 MKII might look like a giant calculator, but this standalone sampler and sequencer has become somewhat of a mainstay in the lo-fi music community, with popular users like The Alchemist, Jonwayne, and Dibiase. 

You get 16 pads for triggering samples, a built-in sequencer, and a number of useful effects like vinyl simulation, reverb, and compression. It’s super easy to load and manipulate samples on the fly, perfect for making beats no matter where you are.

Akai MPC Live II

Akai is king in the hardware sampling world, and the Akai MPC Live II offers a modern take on the legendary MPC series, providing sequencing, sampling, and performance capabilities.

The multi-touch screen interface has 16 velocity-sensitive pads and a comprehensive suite of effects and editing tools, as well as numerous connectivity options, including USB and CV/Gate outputs.

I can’t think of a better tool for chopping samples.

Teenage Engineering OP-1

The Teenage Engineering OP-1 is one of the most portable instruments on the market today, though it’s also one of the most innovative and versatile. 

You’ll find a wide range of synthesis engines onboard, including physical modeling, FM, and subtractive, as well as numerous built-in effects, sequencers, and customizable parameters.

However, the biggest selling point of the OP-1 is that it allows you to sample and manipulate audio directly, meaning you can capture sounds from vinyl records to the environment around you, before chopping and manipulating them to create unique lo-fi textures.

The Art of Sampling in Lofi Music

Sampling is one of the defining aspects of lo-fi music production. Of course, as any successful lo-fi music producer would tell you, there’s an art to picking and using the right samples.

Finding and Selecting Samples

For the sake of this section, let’s pretend we’re making a lo-fi hip-hop track. We’d probably want to look at old jazz or soul vinyl records, as well as records that have more obscure, textural sounds, such as spoken word records, field recordings, or movie dialogue.

Vinyl Records

Before the internet was ripe with samples for the pickin’, old-school lo-fi hip-hop producers would head down to their local record stores to dig through vinyl record crates to find unique sounds to sample. 

While you can certainly rip many samples digitally these days, there’s nothing like the raw, fuzzy texture of vinyl. It’s in this medium that you’ll find natural imperfections akin to the lo-fi sound, such as crackles, pops, and background noise.

Beyond that, not all vinyl records are readily available in digital format, meaning a classic crate dig might be the best way to find a rare or obscure sample that no one else has used. 

It’s important to consider that sampling from vinyl records requires special equipment, including a turntable, a phono preamp, and an audio interface that you can hook up to your computer.

If you plan on releasing the lo-fi music you make with sounds sampled from vinyl, you’ll also have to be mindful of licensing and clearance.

Online Sample Libraries

If you don’t feel like going through the licensing process or you don’t have access to a record store where you can find samples for your music, you might consider scoping online sample libraries instead. 

These digital repositories are filled with pre-recorded samples and loops that cover a wide range of styles and genres, which you can easily download from and integrate into your projects.

Most online sample libraries provide clear licensing terms, giving you the legal right to use the samples in your music.

Some of the best online sample libraries include:

  • Splice
  • Loopmasters
  • Cymatics
  • Black Octopus Suond
  • Sample Magic

Field Recordings

If you really want to make your lo-fi music unique to you , get out and capture capturing sounds in the field. Whether you go to an actual field or some other real-world environment is up to you. 

The idea, however, is to bring microphones or portable recording devices to capture the atmosphere around you and incorporate it into your tracks. 

Field recordings are great, as they add a sense of place and atmosphere that you can’t get with VSTs. Plus, they provide you with the opportunity to experiment and explore unconventional sound sources.

Unique Elements of Lofi Music

As we briefly went over before, there are several unique elements that contribute to the overall sound of lo-fi music. Let’s dig a bit deeper into each one of those elements.

Slow Tempo Beats

While there’s plenty of variation in the overarching lo-fi genre, most of the time, you’ll find slow tempo beats as the foundation, ranging from 70 to 90 BPM. Again, lo-fi music is supposed to be relaxing and introspective, and having rhythm that feels unhurried is the best way to achieve that.

Proper Instrumentation

There are certain instruments that showcase the lo-fi sound better than others, and even though you should always feel free to experiment, I’d recommend looking for vintage, timeless instruments that evoke the nostalgia of decades past, such as vintage synthesizers, warbly electric guitars, and warm electronic keyboards, such as Rhodes and Wurlitzers.

The choice of drums here might be the most crucial. Think crunchy, dusty, tape-saturated samples that aren’t full range.

Jazzy Chord Progressions

If you’re not a jazz aficionado, don’t let this scare you away. 

Sometimes, getting a simple chord progression to sound “jazzy” only requires extending the chords with sevenths, ninths, or 11ths, and so on, to make them more colorful. Not only can these chord extensions make your music feel more complex and sophisticated, but they also evoke a more palpable sense of nostalgia.

It can also be helpful to analyze chord progressions on your favorite lo-fi tracks and chart them out. You’ll begin seeing patterns that you can then incorporate into your own music.

If you want to learn more about chord progressions in music theory, however, check out our beginner’s guide to chord progressions .

EQ and Saturation

Two of the most important tone-shaping tools we can use in lo-fi music include EQ and saturation. With EQ, we can roll-off high frequencies to get a low-fidelity sound, emphasizing the midrange and low-end frequencies to get a softer, warmer sonic profile.

In the same way, we can use saturation plugins to give our tracks harmonic distortion. There are hundreds of great plugins that emulate the character of vintage recording equipment, including Soundtoys Decapitator and UAD Studer A800, to name a few.

Atmosphere and Field Recordings

Whether you choose to use your own field recordings or take ambient textures from online libraries, adding atmosphere to your lo-fi tracks is a great way to create a setting or environment for your track. 

Nothing can set the mood quite like an organic sound that we can all relate to, from birds chirping to rain lightly pattering on a windowsill.


Artifacts were a part of the listening experience in the analog era, and by injecting your music with these sort of imperfections, such as tape hiss or vinyl crackle, you can capture that same vintage authenticity. 

How to Make Your First LoFi Hip-Hop Beat

Start With a Drum Loop

Start by browsing through sample libraries and online sample marketplaces to find some good drum loops to use as a jumping-off point. 

Look for loops from around 70-90 BPM that have a natural, organic feel, and the right timbre. For a lo-fi hip-hop beat, in particular, think thuddy kick drum samples, brushed snare drums, and gentle hi-hats. 

If you want to make your own loops, you can do so by layering multiple drum loops and samples or programming your own beats using a virtual drum machine or sampler.

The important thing here is to maintain a human feel. Experiment with adding swing or groove to your drum patterns, incorporate ghost notes, and pay attention to dynamics by giving your loop subtle velocity variations throughout. Embrace imperfection and you’ll uncover what makes the genre so charming in the first place.

Lay Down Your Instrumentation

Next, decide on your instrumentation.

There are infinite options at this point, so to start, I recommend listening to your favorite lo-fi tracks and writing down what kind of instruments they’re using to create a palette of sorts. This way, you’ll have a path to stick to and you won’t feel paralyzed by the overwhelming number of choices.

For the most part, organic instruments work best in lo-fi music. Consider electric pianos like Rhodes or Wurlitzers, mellow horns, jazz guitars, and vintage synths.

You can either use pre-recorded loops and chop them up on a sampler or use VSTs and a MIDI keyboard to compose a completely unique progression. If you're an instrumentalist of any kind, I recommend laying down some live recordings of your own. Remember, even if you don't have access to high-quality recording equipment, when it comes to lo-fi songs, 'raw' is the mentality.

Create a Chord Progression

At this point, you might have a small loop that you’re bobbing your head to. If that loop doesn’t already have a chord progression itself, now is a good time to add one. 

If you know nothing about music theory, you might have to experiment a bit here to see what notes sound good with your current loop. 

If you want to flip it around and start with your chord progressions instead of your sample or loop, you can start by downloading some lo-fi or jazz chord progression MIDI packs, or taking some standard chord MIDI packs and adding extensions to the chords, such as 7ths or 9ths. 

PRO TIP: Many lo-fi hip-hop producers apply the well-know 2-5-1 chord progression to their tracks, which I’d recommend getting familiar with before you start. 

Even if you feel your chord progression is already sounding pretty good, you can take it a step further and experiment with chord inversions and voicings to make things sound more unique. The same thing goes for your bass line. Don't feel the need to stay on the root note the entire time.

Structuring Your Lo-Fi Track

There’s no need to overcomplicate the structural aspect of your lofi hip-hop track. More often than not, you’ll find that these tracks have a straightforward structure, such as:

  • Intro (8-16 bars)
  • Verse (16-32 bars)
  • Chorus (8-16 bars)
  • Verse (16-32 bars)
  • Chorus (8-16 bars)
  • Bridge (8-16 bars)
  • Chorus (8-16 bars) 
  • Outro (8-16 bars)

Even if you aren’t using lyrics in your lo-fi track, I find it helpful to structure it out in these different sections and adding/subtracting different parts to make things more interesting. The best lo-fi producers will also add transitions between different sections to keep their lo-fi beats moving, such as quiet risers, reverse cymbals, and more.

Craft a Melody to Latch Onto

If you’re initial sample or chord progression isn’t very melodic, I recommend creating a melody that the listener can latch onto. These melodies can be played on instruments we talked about earlier, such as an electric piano, synth, or trumpet.

The idea here isn’t to bog down the mood of the track with melodies, but use them sparingly to create a slight motif.

Use Lofi Plugins, Samples, and Effects

Once you’re general lo-fi beat is feeling full and moving along, you can begin adding ear candy. 

This can include lo-fi effects and samples, such as vinyl crackle, tape saturation, or ambient field recordings. These samples should be blended into the background, so they don't overpower the main elements but rather contribute to the overall ambiance.

You can also experiment with other effects like bit-crushing, sample rate reduction, and chorusing to introduce subtle inconsistencies.

Mix and Bounce

As you mix, pay close attention to how each element is balance. Adjust the volume levels, panning, EQ, and compression to create a cohesive and pleasing sound. I recommend using a reference track so that you have a goal in mind.

You can even get creative with spatial effects like reverb and delay to create a sense of space and depth. Once you’re all ready to go, export your final mix to a high-quality audio format like WAV or AIFF.

Final Thoughts - How to Make Lofi Music

Lofi music gets seemingly more and more popular each day, and hopefully with this small lo-fi music guide, you have the inspiration to get out there and start making your own. Begin exploring playlists on Spotify, Soundcloud, and YouTube to find new lo-fi artists to listen to and ask for tips.

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