An easy way to fake a lo-fi sound is by incorporating noise into your mix. Here are six ways to do it effectively…
Step 1: When starting a track, put an audio clip of some noise (vinyl crackle, tape hum, etc) into the project before laying down any other sounds. This’ll set the scene for a rough, lo-fi writing session, as it’ll instantly invoke the sense of analogue gear outputting sonic artefacts.
Step 2: As most old analogue synths and gear operate in mono, use a utility plugin to remove any stereo information from your noise sample and sit it in the middle of the mix. Alternatively, for stereo impact, pan the noise to one side, or apply a stereoising effect for a more modern sense of width.
Step 3: As an old analogue studio comprised multiple hardware sources, you can go even further and pile up multiple noise layers into the mix for authenticity and lo-fi density. Slightly pan these noise layers apart a touch for stereo effects.
Step 4: If you want the noise to virtually emanate from one mix element – say, a synth part – then group those signals together and process them as one. Heavily compress this group to get the noise ‘breathing’ along with changes in the core sound’s dynamic profile.
Step 5: Most noise samples will feature DC offset or low-frequency content. If you’re after a cleaner mix, you should obviously filter away this mix-clogging low end – but for a more rugged, ambiguous bottom end, try keeping those low frequencies in the mix.
Step 6: A loud piece of noise may distract from a track’s core elements, and can be tricky to fit in a composition effectively. Keep the arrangement in mind when composing and use volume automation to push up the level of noise layers during sparser breakdown and edit sections for more impact.