How a music subculture helps you study and makes you friends
I sit in the library, right foot tapping with a daunting amount of work (that I definitely procrastinated on) ahead of me. Almost everyone around me has earbuds in, listening to their own personal choice of study music. My routine is the same: I make my way up to the quiet floor and meticulously lay out my spread of study materials.
To the amusement of my friends, I always have a playlist of assorted lo-fi beats that lasts for hours with accompanying vaporwave-esque cover art (think Bart Simpson with a grainy, patel overlap that any Tumblr boy sufficient at Tumblr would consider artsy). I’ll put my headphones on, raise the volume and tune out while simultaneously tuning in to focus on the work I have cut out for me.
I know I’m not alone in this niche music of choice, as lo-fi beats fans have developed their own sort of internet subculture in recent years. The music genre itself is described as, “a genre that runs introspective and jazzy old school hip hop beats through the crackly sounds of an old cassette or vinyl record. Wistful movie quotes frequently bookend the tracks on the playlists,” according to a Dazed article from June 2018. Oftentimes these tracks include minimal or no vocal elements at all layered over the quirky, repetitive instrumentals as to not be distracting when trying to focus on that essay you’re procrastinating.
This is one of the main draws to this music for the online lo-fi community, and according to an Engadget article, there is science behind the reason these beats can be so calming for listeners. It partially has to do with the combination of sounds and what are known as “salient events” or sounds that we are able to tune out once they become repetitive. “A baby crying or a dog barking are salient because they’re piercing and change volume. A steady drone is easy to ignore because after a certain point the brain tunes it out. The sound doesn’t disappear — you just stop noticing it.”
The songs become almost like white noise, allowing listeners to focus on their work rather than what they’re listening to. In recent years, studies have shown that listening to any music while studying may not be as beneficial as was once believed. Of course, this all depends on the student and the type of work being done, and while music can soothe or improve mood, it can also interfere with the task if it’s stimulating similar parts of the brain. For example, a lyrical song could be distracting if you’re working on an essay because the language part of the brain is triggered, according to USA Today.
Study benefits aside, the online culture of lo-fi beats’ listeners is what makes this genre so intriguing. I first encountered lo-fi beats and vapor waves freshman year when my friend told me that it’s what he uses to “set the vibe” of the night, and while I prefer my dank vapor waves with a side of writing assignments and a double-shot of espresso, there’s an online subculture of listeners that all have this one genre in common. Youtube accounts will livestream their latest drop, and listeners all tune in to share the experience through their computer screens. Dazed wrote that a true lo-fi beat account can be easily picked from a line up.
“The stations should be recognisable to anyone familiar with internet aesthetics, from YouTube to Tumblr to different Chans, where a picture of a lethargic Bart Simpson, or an anime character with their pointed face buried in a pile of books, will converge with the colour palettes and stylised text (“C A L M R A D I O 2 4 / 7”) of vaporwave.”
So whether you’re in it for the study productivity, the humor of photoshopped cover art or the online community, this music choice might be for you. And if it’s not, then don’t mind me while I ~chill the fuck out~.
Alexis Morillo is a senior journalism major who didn’t not listen to lo-fi beats while writing this. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org