A Lo Fi plugin is usually thought of when you think of adding "harmonic distortion" or "analog warmth" but I've recently learned that those two desirable outcomes are really not what Lo Fi is.
"Lo Fi" or Low Fidelity are the musical imperfections that can be heard like misplayed notes or tape hiss.
Typically you would reach for a low fi plugin to add some of that old school feel that music naturally had before the digital age took over.
That not so "perfect" sound that had a lot of character, nice sounding tape distortion, and imperfections that made the song and recording unique.
If you go back and listen to music in the 60s and 70s, you may notice that they sometimes are not the best quality of recordings and mixes.
You may hear some tape hiss, or out of tune vocals, or clicks and pops or scratches. That didn't stop those classic songs from becoming global hits!
Hi Fidelity vs Lo Fidelity
Literally in the Oxford dictionary it says lo-fi is of "sound production less good in quality than 'hi-fi'".
That's funny, because now people purposely add lo fi degraded sounds in their music productions to "mess them up", and add some character and ear candy to the otherwise pristine digital sounds.
On the Wikipedia page it references the Oxford Dictionary again in later publications describing Lo Fi as
Consequently, in 2003, the Oxford Dictionary added a second definition for the term—"a genre of rock music characterized by minimal production, giving a raw and unsophisticated sound". A third was added in 2008: "unpolished, amateurish, or technologically unsophisticated, esp. as a deliberate aesthetic choice."
How Lo Fi started
Lo Fi got it's start in the underground rock/punk scene of the 60s, 70s, and 80s with bands that would record their music on a budget in garages or home studios on "cheap" gear.
So kind of like all of us home studio owners right now!
They would record fast and leave all the imperfections in. It was raw, real, and awesome.
What Is Lo Fi Music? - Examples
Here are a few examples of some popular Lo Fi songs you may have heard.
What is Lo Fi Hip Hop?
Lo Fi Hip Hop refers to a genre that consists of modern hip hop mixed in with Jazz instruments to create a chill vibe for the listener.
Artists and producers will use Lo Fi plugins to add tape crackle, hiss to give you that nostalgic feel to the music.
The modern Hip Hop elements are not solely just mixed with Jazz, but can have really any kind of instruments and vocals. As long as it sounds "older" and degraded and relaxed then you're on the right track.
Here are some examples of Lo Fi Hip Hop.
How To Make Lo Fi Music
I've put together a Lo Fi Hip Hop(ish) production tutorial to show you how you can add these elements to your tracks.
Check it out below!
Using A Lo Fi Plugin To Help Tame Harsh Vocals and Cymbals
You don't always have to use Lo Fi plugins just for creating that "messed up" old sound.
You can actually use it as a tool to help on certain tracks that may have been recorded too harsh.
Below I have video tutorial where I show you how I used a stock protools lo fi plugin on vocals and drum cymbals to tame that harshness, but then bring back the presence that I took away with the lo fi plugin but without the harshness.
It's a subtle fix, but it can go a long way. Check it out!
Comment below and let me know if and how you use lo fi plugins in your music.
I will be adding some lo fi mixing tutorials soon, and will update this page when I do.