Lo-fi hip hop has become something of a musical phenomenon in recent years. Beats to chill, study, or (insert mundane activity here.) Sounds familiar to you?
Reaping in astronomical hours on streaming sites, this strangely soothing genre has been the go to choice for those who need a relaxing background soundtrack to their daily lives.
Inspired by 90s ‘golden age’ hip hop, the lo-fi variant focuses on the chilled-out side of instrumental hip-hop, with crusty beats, jazzy instrumentation, and often heavily swung rhythms.
Adding swing, or ‘shuffle’ to a beat involves changing the timing of certain beats to achieve a push-pull effect, and is what gives hip hop and house music much of its groovy, danceable feel.
In this tutorial we’ll show you how to create a lo-fi hip hop beat from scratch using the tools on BandLab. It’s a free online digital audio workstation that allows you to share your beats with friends anywhere in the world. BandLab can be accessed on both smart phones and web browsers, making it easy for collaborators to add vocals to your tracks.
Here are six easy steps that show you how to make a lo-fi beat that you can use as a foundation for your own track.
1. Setting up the project
Once you’ve created a BandLab account and logged in, you can use the + Create button to make a new project. You’ll be asked how you want to start your new track. Select the Instruments option, then set the instrument category to Drum Pads and the instrument to Fat 90’s Kit. Then, drag down on the project tempo and set it to 85BPM.
2. Creating a MIDI clip to work with
Click View and make sure the Snap to Grid option is selected. Right-click on the instrument track and select Create Region. Drag the handle at the bottom right hand corner of the newly created MIDI clip to shorten its length to a single bar.
3. Adding kicks and snares
Double-click the clip to enter the grid editor, then double click on the kick drum lane at the 1 and 1.3 positions. This adds a kick drum trigger to the first and third beat of the bar. Next, double-click on the snare drum lane on the 1.2 and 1.4 positions to add a snare to the second and fourth beats.
4. Adding swung hats
Add closed hats halfway between each beat. This sounds too rigid and robotic for lo-fi, so we’ll move the hats to the right a little so that they play slightly later, giving the beat a groovy shuffle. Set View > Grid Size to 1/32, and drag the hats a single 1/32nd note to the right.
5. Layering claps
Double-click the clap lane on the 1.2 and 1.4 positions to layer the snare up with a clap. We can get a more lo-fi feel but offsetting the timing of the clap slightly. To do this, turn View > Snap to Grid off, then drag over both clap triggers to select them, and drag them to the right slightly. Just a little before halfway through a 32nd note will give you an appropriately lazy feel.
6. Applying compression
lo-fi tracks often use heavy compression to add character to their beats. Click the Effect button at the bottom left hand corner of BandLab’s interface, then click the Plus button in the empty effect chain to add an effect. Select Dynamics > DIGI Comp, and turn up the Attack knob to 700ms or so so the drums’ retain their transient punch.
Watch this space for more tips, tricks and tutorials on more beatmaking basics on BandLab. If you have not entered one of our biggest contests of the year, Tracklanta 2020: Virtual Sessions, there’s still time!
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Read more: How to make a UK drill beat on BandLab