There’s something to having sounds that are not as perfect and pristine as possible. The most professionally recorded sounds still don’t guarantee good music! If you need proof that imperfections in samples and accidents in your recording process are good, just look at DJ Shadow and Boards of Canada. Give lo-fi samples a chance and see if it can make your tracks stand out and sound better!
Lof-Fi Synths (Ableton Live Racks)
Nothing can beat the sound of a top-quality, high-end synth, but equally, there are times when what you want is something cheap and cheerful. Before you set out to raid the car boot sales, though, check out these classic Casio & Yamaha keyboards, sampled and converted into Ableton Instrument Racks! There are 7 different Lo-Fi Synths to choose from and all in all you have access to almost 200 presets from these keyboards if you download the sample pack. If you don’t use Ableton Live, then simply go into the Samples folder and you’ll find all the sounds as WAV files so you can import them directly into your DAW or sampler of choice. You’re welcome to use the samples in your music in any way you like.
Get even more gritty with our DR-202 Drum Kit, which really sounds crushed to the max! This sound kit gives you all the drums you need create your own lo-fi drum loops. These fit well with electronic, hip-hop, drum n’ bass, jungle, house, trip-hop and other styles of beats. Composed mainly of kicks, snares, hats and claps, each type is sorted by folder and each samples file name was given the same name as you would find on the DR-202. Includes WAV samples for use in the Sampler and DAW of your choice, as well as pre-mapped Ableton presets!
Want to make your own Lo-Fi Samples?
Sample packs are nice for inspiration and quick wins, but ultimately you might want to create your own unique lo-fi sounds and create a cohesive lo-fi samples library. Let’s celebrate the dirtier side of music production by looking at nine ways that you can roughen up your recordings for that undeniable lo-fi feel.
Sample your own Sounds
Sampling sounds around you is fun and inspiring. All you need is a recording device, like your phone. Check out the next yard sale in your area. Go to your local charity shop. Look around for weird sound sources. There’s the obvious kids keyboards and musical or percussive instruments, but what else? How about banging two wooden blocks together, dropping cutlery on the floor, popping bubble wrap with an iron. Everything makes sound, so get creative! Be sure to pick up some random vinyl and ask your granddad for his record player. Play a record and sample the noise and dirt, then manipulate it into sound beds later. While you’re on the hunt try grabbing an old four track cassette recorder, although any cassette player with record function will do. Why? See the next point.
Bounce to Tape
Sending sound from your laptop to external gear is a great way to introduce warmth and dirt to the sample. If you haven’t found a tape deck in your area then check online auction sites or online classifieds. Seriously, nobody wants these things in their house anymore – except for beatmakers and producers! It might be time consuming to bounce your tracks out and back in, but just get started – you may find it addictive. If it’s too much hassle, there are VST plugins for this sort of thing, but they never feel as good to use as a real tape deck.
No DAW Allowed
Doesn’t matter if you use Logic, FL Studio, Ableton, Pro Tools, Reason or whatever. Force yourself to work outside of your DAW every now and then. The easiest start is to grab a couple music apps for your phone or tablet and start experimenting with a limited set of features. Then get more adventurous. A lot of Lo-Fi producers love the Roland SP-404 for its simple and intuitive workflow. We recently reviewed the Microgranny Lo-Fi Sampler by Bastl Instruments, which goes super lo-fi and is a great loop sampler for recording material on the go. Then take your new idea and flesh it out your DAW of choice.
EQing for Instant Lo-Fi
An easy way to emulate old lo-fi recordings is to be more drastic in your EQing then usual. Give them mid-range frequencies a solid boost and apply a lowpass at around 11K. Your instruments will sound gritty and more like recorded through the telephone. Back in the days the recording consoles couldn’t record all the high frequencies that we can record on the computer these days. That’s why I always apply a high pass filter to thin out instruments in the higher range frequency spectrum as well.
If there is one machine synonymous with Lo-Fi samples & beats, it’s the Roland SP-404. It’s most talked about feature is the Vinyl Compression Effect. It’s basically adding heavy compression onto your sampled loop. By playing around with the attack & release you will notice two things. One is a mild distortion – nice for that lo-fi feel. The other one is the signature pumping / breathing effect, which you hear in a lot of J Dilla, Madlib, Flying Lotus type music. If you don’t feel like buying external gear, then check out the excellent Vulf Compressor, which faithfully recreates the characteristics of the SP-303, the predecessor of the SP-404.
After you’ve filtered out a lot of high end frequencies, saturation is a good way to bring out the sounds harmonics, resulting in more warmth and analogue crispness. Add it on the bass and you will hear it cut right through your mix!
Mono beats Stereo
A lot of lo-fi producers make most of their channels mono and adjust the panning, instead of having everything in stereo. Definitely keep the low end mono in the center of your mix and you will instantly have a better mix. Play around with the high frequencies and see if widening them or panning them makes the mix fuller.
Dubbing it Out
The sounds of dub and experimental reggae can be interesting sources of lo-fi inspiration. You can get decent dub effects within your DAW but for something as close to the real thing as possible, check out our review of the Dub Machines VST Plugins or get Outer Space, the excellent tape delay VST by AudioThing.
Hope you learned some tricks in our journey down to Lo-Fi Samples land. Remember, in the end the sound is a highly personal and subjective experience. Don’t follow our advice blindly. Try it out, customize the techniques and make them your own. By listening to music that inspires you, taking notes and experimenting, you will quickly achieve that desired sound.