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  • Writer's pictureHarry

Lo-Fi: Modern Mindfulness in Sound

Recently, I've been spending a lot of time in my parents' household - working from home, staying inside, being all mellow in the company of loved ones and getting used to getting into that caffeinated sweet spot for great productivity. This productivity and mindfulness package comes with an edge, which now has become the standard for a lot of former office dwellers.

minimal lofi tattoo idea designed by Harry Poderskis

A few weeks ago, I rediscovered my passion for lo-fi music, or rather the funky effect it has on my work routine. It's been a flow state inducing thing for hundreds of millions of people for a long time, especially during the past few years. At this point, lo-fi is a global millennial (mostly) phenomena, a trend that goes unnoticed, because that's the main point - be there, in the present, unnoticed and just float around, taking it easy.

Last week my stepdad peeked his nose in the main room, where I was set up with my laptop. I had the iconic lo-fi girl scribbling some notes on the TV, music playing in the background. He did a looong double and couldn't contain the signature 'Wtf are you watching lol'.

Let's find out, for his sake.

What is it?

Lo-fi (short for low-fidelity) is a music or production quality in which elements usually regarded as imperfections of a recording or performance are audible - as a deliberate aesthetic choice.

real life footage of a marketer listening to lo-fi

It has experienced its rise in the early '90s, and culminated as a generational musical phenomenon in recent years, tapping into the modern soul and bringing people back into the present moment while they work, do chores or are sinking into their couch after a doobie.

From underground beginnings in the 90's to much-needed home therapy in 2020 - this is your introduction to the low-fidelity music genre.

Let's listen...

...we're talking about music, after all. Here is the OG iconic lo-fi music compilation video on YouTube:

One of the most fascinating features of the lo-fi music genre is that it actually has a persona. The lo-fi girl is an image or a repetitive ad infinitum video of a teenage or university-age girl, studying in her cosy room, with a cat peeking through the window.

The lo-fi girl is always there if you peek at ChilledCow's YouTube channel, studying 24/7 studying and playing different compilations of lo-fi on repeat. The artist has been one of the key figures for popularising the genre across YouTube and beyond. If you search 'lofi' on there right now, or at any time till the end of time, you'll find the iconic livestream, ready to binge on from now until (hopefully) the end of YouTube. Here it is, for your convenience:

On the topic of lo-fi girl, there's much more. /r/Europe ran a competition to create a version of the iconic lo-fi girl for each country. The result was an explosion of engagement for the whole subreddit, which made waves throughout Reddit, culminating in fantastic artwork. I've compiled a small portion of it for you:

And let's not forget the diamond in the bunch, the representative of Ireland:

If you ever see this girl at an Irish pub at least you'll know that she's quite popular and possibly out of your league. Tayto's, anyone?

Millennial sound therapy.

Lo-fi is one of the few digital remedies, used to cleanse your palette from the negativity, clickbait and sensationalism which has possessed the mainstream media in the past decade. The lo-fi effect has been described as a 'cocoon', bringing the listener to a monotone state, balancing far away from the chaos presented by everyday digital distractions.

This wordless music, sprinkled with nostalgic sounds, such as the scratching or imperfections of vinyl are designed to hit the sweet spot of wakefulness. It's not slow enough to lull you to sleep, and it's not too fast - won't raise cortisol levels. It's all a sweet, imperfect, monotone, 'cocoon' experience.

It doesn't distract you from your work - it's only there when you randomly notice it, and it's gone when you've zoomed in on that boring spreadsheet. The point is handling stress in a rhythmical way, step by step, being in the present moment and letting go of all that is extreme. Balance and calmness to the tune of a slow hip-hop beat.

If you've got dark underground German techno playing in the background, the psychological arousal coming from its aggressive beat may influence an extraordinary reaction to ordinary things. In that scenario, anxiety from reading a bad email will have a sharper edge to it. With lo-fi, it's all good, natural, small, calm, tame and present. Softness and mellowness in all things, including your reactions to common everyday stress factors.

Speaking of techno, it is another one of my romances - that will receive a separate entry very soon! That one will be strictly B&W; it just has to be that way. Obligatory Amelie Lens:

Presence on YouTube.

Lo-fi is one of the most popular genres for video making for a few obvious reasons. First, it eliminates the barrier to entry for those who are looking to express themselves through visual art but are not able to feature high skill and/or consistency in their content - two things which have proven to be essential for growth as a YouTube creator.

There is no lack of lo-fi tunes being released by independent artists. In fact, the content volume is so high, that the market saturation makes it less reasonable to monetize content from the get-go. At this point, the main way for smaller lo-fi artists to get their sounds heard and drive traffic to (for example) their Patreon, is to allow as many channels to create as many lo-fi compilations as possible, giving credit to their work during the video and in the description section. In a nutshell: using free exposure through growing compilation creators, followed by attempts at monetisation via donation platforms - zero sweat, just like lo-fi itself.

For YouTube creators looking for easier ways to get into video production and entertainment, the video production process of the average trendy lo-fi video is extremely simple. The core message of the video itself is centred around the mood of the specific lo-fi tunes being featured in any given lofi mix/compilation. Sound is provided by easy-going music producers, and the minimal/vanilla/retro repetitive style for the actual visual content is easy to produce en masse with minimal equipment (more on equipment below).

This is the lowest barrier to entry for people that I call 'high creatives' - those who specialise in the creative arts, have great knowledge regarding the mediums used to display and communicate their work to great effect, consistently, effectively. In this case, that person can be your little sister, if she can compile separate pieces of music into a high-quality production while giving credit to all featured artists and mention all the things that need to be mentioned in the video description.

My lo-fi experiment.

I've tried my hand at creating 3 lofi mix videos, with my own custom video footage on YouTube. The point was to test the algorithm in these areas: copywriting, hashtags, video duration, video quality, trends, title structure, tags and community engagement. I've ticked off at least half of those with the analytics data from the Creator's Studio, which enables me to share some tips for new lofi creators (see below: 'My advice for new lo-fi creators') with greater confidence.

2 of these are from my trip to Bangkok, and one was made to be quite different - both in video and style (featuring dub/lofi house, rather than the standard lofi hip hop music).

(Here's one from Bangkok)

Notice the titles - they're either minimal or 'aesthetically' maximal. Truth be told, I've copied the structure of the Chao Phraya mix from a well-known compilation creator, just to test out how titles work in YouTube lo-fi publishing. Then I went with my gut and made it all minimal with the 'secret' garden'.

(and another...)

The performance was more or less the same, but I did receive a higher flood of traffic during the first 12 hours of posting with the 'secret garden'. I wouldn't call this evidence of anything, but to me, the more minimal title looks better. As a lo-fi lover, I would click on THAT rather than something that kind of looks childish and unnecessarily flooded with brackets, hashtags, long-form bombastic titles etc. If you need a sense of style that goes with lo-fi related copy, get on Spotify and review the names of the various artists/songs on there. Sweet, simple, minimal, low fidelity.

I don't want to be too preachy about sticking to your sense of style with these things, but as a marketer, I can't avoid emphasizing authenticity for anyone who is interested in creating a personal brand. Do you know those 3-hour podcasts with Joe Rogan? It's impossible to fake your true identity and style in those things - you're not a robot. And so it is irrational to assume that you can hide the true essence of your soul after putting in 10k+ hours into a creative project. It is essential to tap into that authenticity early on. Without being authentic, you can't be lo-fi.

For the last one, I spent a warm summer afternoon with my Sony a6500, filming the moon travelling around an aesthetic looking statue at the Lincoln Usher Gallery, UK. This one is barely what you hear from a standard lofi compilation as it is a more niche version of lofi, called lofi house and dub/lofi techno.

With this one, the slight change in title structure resulted in almost zero traffic for the first 12 hours. Seems like hashtags and not messing with the words too much works better than anything.

The intro animation was one of my first advanced logo animation projects in Adobe After Effects. The intro voiceover was an iPhone recording of my wifey's voice. These things made the whole thing authentic, fun and enjoyable, while still keeping it extremely simple and worth the time.

My advice for new lo-fi creators.

In 2021 and beyond, you'll need to differentiate yourself from the OG's like ChilledCow. It's a bit hard to do that without inventing a new palette of sound and still attract attention. If you don't intend to be some sort of New-Fi Banksy, there are a few rules to go by for a successful experiment as a creator specialising in lo-fi mixes.

Show your special talent.

Are you good at animation, music production, storytelling? Do you have a great ear and find it easy to discover new artists to create a fresh mix, while not abandoning the lofi vibe? An actual lofi music producer? Perfect - genuine talent is the most common success factor in differentiating yourself from all the amateur lo-fi creative channels.

If you're good at drawing and animation, create your own lofi girl to represent the city, country or region you're in. If you're a lo-fi artist, mix your tracks in between the better known and well-established - make it flow. Record yourself blowing bubbles for 10 minutes, and play it on a loop for an hour. As long as it's lofi, the format is simple and the possibilities are endless.

Less is more.

If you don't have the equipment to pursue your passion, you might find an answer in your pocket - your typical iPhone will give you access to iMovie, which is known to export video that is very much liked by Instagram Stories and YouTube's Creator Studio. Download the sounds, mix them on your phone, film a daisy for an hour, put a slight VHS effect on it - that's your humble start. And the result from that might just be a good enough video piece to brighten some viewer's day.

Play the YouTube game.

Your menu for YT consists of knowing the copyright rules, copywriting structure, use of hashtags, collaborations with other creators, media format and proper handling of the Creator's Studio.

For copyright, you'll be sourcing your music from SoundCloud and various other places, which the lo-fi producers use as their primary publishing platform. Look for their requirements in the descriptions of any given track - most of them ask for credit, links to their Patreon or a small donation.

Another key point is consistency. You'll hear this being preached by every expert, and it is the hardest thing to pull off. If it turns into an addiction rather than a chore - congrats, you already won.

Take it to the comment section.

I learned this one from day 1 of my first lofi upload. All creators, big or small, engage with every lofi artist out there in the comment section. It's always something wholesome; sometimes it's an invite to collaborate or just a motivational note, such as:

There's no politics, fakeness or the kind of shite your television or digital echo chamber is feeding you on the daily. There's just openness, positivity and comfy simplicity. This is a palette cleanse, remember?

If you're having trouble being wholesome, just copy-paste this: 'Hey, whoever you are, I'm just glad we're both listening to this. Let's choose happiness today!'.

This is one of the most consistently wholesome and welcoming communities that you'll ever encounter on the internet. Embrace it and it will be worth your time, I promise.

Observe the trends.

Like any other genre, lo-fi creative as it is now is subject to a decrease in popularity. It will evolve into something new, be replaced by other things, the generation which grew up with it will move on and another one will remember bits and pieces of it. That's how it always was and ever will be.

Treat this as an opportunity to be one of the first pioneers. By observing the growth or decline of lo-fi related channels, hashtags and other metrics, you'll know when the time is ripe to experience new sounds, moods and discover a... lo-fi boy (I'm just waiting for an animation which would tell a love story of these two characters), perhaps?

Treat it as therapy.

Lo-Fi should be a thing that you genuinely enjoy. I know people who can't stay still for a minute and consider lofi as dull as elevator or call-centre reception music. To put it bluntly, this is not for those types, and anything to do with lofi creation will be a pain and you just won't be able to hit the right tone & style in your creative output. Try picking a romance that's right for you.

One of my fav creators on YouTube and Instagram has adapted Lo-Fi to a truly personal style for vlogging. She records herself reading a book, working, cooking or just relaxing in the safety of her own home - all while playing lofi tunes. In her comment's section people are revealing that having a video featuring someone chilling in a comfy space while playing lo-fi music helps them cope. Lo-fi is definitely a force for good in the digital realm and it is a great supplementary content theme to someone like Audrie Storme:

If that's not therapy, I don't know what is.

Forgetting marketing.

I mean to set a precedent for my blogs - the effort will never be one-dimensional value or some meme-y stonks hype brigade. I create these for you and me, simple people with simple dreams. At the least, this entry is a place for some scribbles, and at best - an attempt to connect with fellow audiophiles.

Lo-fi introduces a style to your routine, it takes you away from the fluff in the media and the gimmicks used in marketing - it's pure, from it's creation to the moment it reaches your ear.

It can't be monetized (ads ruin the viewer/listener experience, extremely frowned upon by the lofi community), used for political campaigns (too slow for 1-minute impact ads and non-sensational, unable to bring out impulse) or bring products to market.

It exists in a realm of its own, where the lo-fi girl and the community surrounding her dictates the pace. The second you put a brand alongside it and attempt to sell, it turns against you, leaving all such effort in a horrible aftertaste. This is why I love this audio phenomenon and its community to bits. Welcome to the perfect palette cleanse for a creator; a comfortable space to do great work to a stylish beat.

Let's keep it lofi, harry.


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