SONGWRITING/RECORDING: The lo-fi thing

With the ever-emerging popularity of sites like Bandcamp and Tumblr, more and more indie artists are releasing stuff at a rapid rate. Most of these recordings I come across are of the lo-fi variety.

What’s lo-fi, you ask?

Well, it’s a recording style (or hell, maybe even a genre of music, if you want to get analytically snobby about it) where you just record whatever you want, with whatever resources or equipment is around/available (yes, cheap equipment, and friends who might not be able to play instruments proficiently, but enough to get the job done). You might go “into the red” while tracking a song, and you might have the absolute worst guitar tone ever, but you do it all in one take, and make it the best you can.

Now, I’m not going to be snobby about the lo-fi thing, at all. No fucking way. If anything, songwriters and bedroom recordists who put stuff out there with cheap, crappy-sounding equipment is some of the most inspiring music I’ve ever heard (from the time I was in high school, to today).

I have grown insanely tired of over-produced, sparkly, extremely-well-performed music… even though I was into it for a bit, when I started teaching music. Nowadays, I just don’t care. I want good lyrics, good melodies, and music that comes from the heart, or obviously wears its heart on its sleeve. Nothing sounds better to me.

Here’s a great post by someone at Gearslutz.com, defending lo-fi… and someone who responded right after him…. notice the two polar opposites of opinion. I completely am on the first guy’s side, not the second.

The original lo-fi artists were lo-fi for pragmatic reasons and they preferred the freedom and spontaneity of using, say a 4-track in their bedrooms to having to spend loads of money and work in a really restricted way in order to get hi-fi studio recordings. Lo-fi sound is really about freedom and spontaneity more than it is about sound quality. When people speak nostalgically about lo-fi records, theyre nostalgic about the spontaneous, wildness of those records more than they are about the crappy sound. Although the fact that these records avoided the lamer side of modern hi-fi (over-compression etc.) may also be a factor.

Lo-fi sound is all about the front end of recording. It’s a situation that enabled artists to experiment themselves with sound by messing about with gtrs and mics. It seldom had anything to do with big mixing desks and expensive monitor systems. If they wanted a certain sound they would have gotten that during the recording stage. Also it seems unlikely anyone would hand you a record for you to make sound crappier than it already is. I say assume that they already have the sound they want (lo-fi is about front-end, not mixing) and just try to do a good job of what theyve given you without polishing it too much. Pan, balance, ride levels, maybe a little corrective eq-ing is probably all they want.

Finally if someone comes to you talking about lo-fi and you don’t know what theyre on about it goes without saying that you should check some source recordings out. The earlier recordings of sebadoh, the mountain goats, daniel johnston, pavement and elliott smith are all great records and defining sources of that lo-fi sound.

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and the other guy……

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Personally, and obviously in art it’s all subjective, but I think that bands who WANT a “lo fi” sound lack either material or chops or both. They are using the production style to make interesting what is inherently musically not.

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Wrong. To me, it’s about passion, immediacy, inspiration, and simply “getting it down.” The songwriting quality always matters more than the production. Always. Take Hank Williams’ earliest recordings, and Elliott Smith’s first record… and compare them to the over-produced/over-engineered Nickelback and Taylor Swift stuff. The new shit doesn’t even compare.

Food for thought.

 

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About chriscaulder

music.film.books.food.sleep.

Posted on March 15, 2014, in crappy equipment, lo-fi, motivation, recording, songwriting. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Heh chris I’m a lo/fi recording artist. It was great to read your article. I ‘v been rather shy about my own recordings due to the quality of the recordings. I do tend to agree a little bit with the 2nd responder to the point that the artist may not have the chops to go onto record a hi/fi sound. I think he was talking a bout me. just joking. Anyway enough of him.

    I have had a some time in a recording studio to record a jingle for my former boss. The guy behind the desk wasn’t helpful in that he changed half of my music and told me he would fix it later. I’m not sure how he planned to do that when we were on a time budget and the changes were already in place. Plus he did it on every instrument I played. That guy really sucked. Anyway my point is the difference between flexibility in a studio compared to a in-home recording are 2nd to none, in my opinion. go the lo/fi recording revolution.

    If I had my way I would do studio recordings at home on my own with full control at the wheel, not that i am a control freak, “or maybe I am”, but if somethings going to flop music wise for me, then I want to be 100% responsible for that.

    I am very proud of the work/music I have been able to do over the years and the flexibility, that comes with doing home recordings. That has allowed me to venture into every nook and cranny and corner musically, I dared myself to go into. And as a guitarist/musician, “I do all my own work as well”, this has allowed me to grow and expand and improve as a musician at my own pace. You can’t ask for more than that from anyone who has ever dared to pick up a guitar and strum there first chord.

    Thank you for your wonder piece on lo/fi music. I feel confident I can continue with my work without fear of “will I ever record studio quality music”. Because it doesn’t matter at all. It’s not about the sound quality, it’s still just about the music, and it always has been and always will be.

    Cheers Darryl Steele

  2. Thanks for the tips, I like how you made recommendations 😉

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