Graphic by Eric Burgon

Relaxing and studying just feel better with lo-fi. Here’s a look at how lo-fi can help students this semester.

Lo-fi music — short for low fidelity music — is a style that often utilizes apparent imperfections in quality to manufacture beats of a cozy and inviting nature. Such imperfections often manifest in contemporary lo-fi beats as background static, low hums or gentle rainfall. More often than not, these idiosyncratic quirks are accompanied by soft melodies and complemented by quiet, rhythmic percussion.

 It’s no wonder the popularity of lo-fi music has sky-rocketed in recent years when the sum of its many mellow parts equals such an easy listening experience. With each passing semester, it seems that more and more students default to their favorite lo-fi playlist when piles of homework reach their most daunting heights. Some peculiar combination of imperfect production quality and monotonous melody that we’ve now dubbed “lo-fi beats” is, without a doubt, the de facto soundtrack to exam prep and end-of-semester crunch time. Why?

For starters, the lack of vocalization certainly plays a part. Attempting to convert your jumbled thoughts to coherent language on a page is scary enough. Attempting to do so while Linkin Park’s “Numb” rages against your exhausted eardrums? Forget about it. That’s not to say that lyricism played zero part in lo-fi music’s history. Prolific 1960s band The Beach Boys and many other early rock & roll bands found their footing in the music industry thanks to low-fidelity sounds. It would then be inaccurate to claim that lo-fi music must be instrumental, as the vast majority of modern lo-fi beats are. Rather, lo-fi music appears to have undergone an evolution away from punk-rock albums concocted in shoddy garages and into the realm of intentionally imperfect instrumental tracks intended to be played in the background.

While very few could fault a student for enlisting The Beach Boys in their studies, it’s more common to find seemingly endless playlists of lo-fi beats on platforms such as Spotify or YouTube. One benefit of using such playlists is the nearly seamless transitions between one song and the next. Nearly every song belonging to the modern lo-fi instrumental genre begins with a slow fade-in and concludes with an equally gentle fade-out. The result of this industry standard lends itself to the creation of playlists and the integration of individual songs into collections that have the potential to last for days. 

And yes, sure, the modern lo-fi genre lends itself to exceedingly excessive lengths. But how does this characteristic explain the genre’s still-growing popularity? Further, how have lo-fi beats become nearly synonymous with study sessions? As anybody who may have utilized lo-fi hip-hop in their studying might attest, the comfortable monotony of the genre is an exceptional studying aid for one massive reason: it is ultimately unintrusive, inoffensive, unremarkable. With no offense intended towards any wonderful creators of lo-fi beats — your music exists to remain in the background, away from our already crowded thoughts on statistics, philosophy, biology and whatever other classes might be occupying the forefront of the mind. To the lo-fi musicians: thank you, and please continue to stay out of the way.

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