How to Create a LoFi Piano Sound with Free Plugins
Step 1: Free Piano VST, 4Front R-Piano
The piano is the ultimate lofi tool in my opinion. There’s nothing like a minor, detuned piano chord with an over compressed drum pattern on it with some nice vinyl hiss and light crackles. So let’s get down to work!
First, the plugin/VST you wish to use here is really up to you although the steps laid out here should be relevant regardless! We’re going to go with the 4Front R-Piano as it is a free VST (link here) and has a pleasant sound that I think is definitely overlooked for its price tag (free!). This can we quick and easy as we didn’t change any of the initial default presets for R-Piano and just laid out a key at C4 on our piano roll (random: I like to keep my velocity for my keys around 60-70% so they’re not being hit too hard) in Studio One by Presonus (link here)!
Example of raw piano at C4
Step 2: Distortion, Compression, & EQ
Now that we have a piano key loaded up and ready to go in the piano roll let’s get to business! We’re going to start off with adding some light distortion here to drive up those frequencies.
Here for simplicity I’m using Studio One’s default, free plugin RedLightDist (any distortion VST should do). No science here really I just know I wanted a subtle distortion so I went through the presets found one that was close and tweaked the settings a bit. I brought the drive down a bit as again we’re not trying to drive this crazily, just looking to add a nice fuzz!
Example of raw piano ran through RedlightDist plugin by Sonimus
Compression + EQ Time:
Next we’re using Studio One’s default compressor & EQ channel strip FatChannel. You’ll notice here this is a channel strip (e.g. Gate, Compressor, and EQ in the same plugin), but this would 100% work using individual, standalone compressor & EQ plugins. For compression we’re looking to have light reduction around 3-5db (again find a sound that suits you!). After we get that within reduction range we’re boosting the gain to match the prior audio levels for the piano. I normally do this by adding a Level Meter plugin on the master track and reviewing the audio db level with plugin on/off.
Moving over to EQ within the channel strip, I’m using a passive EQ here just as it is my favorite type of EQ when I want to do some boost in the low end. You can learn more about passive EQs here although this is modeled off the classic Pultec EQP-1. Again, any EQ will do the trick here so don’t feel overwhelmed if you don’t have one! All we’re doing here is giving a slight boost around 100Hz while also using attenuating the same 100Hz a little. Moving over to the high end, we have the frequency set at 8kHz and are boosting that a bit more to exaggerate the highs. We are similarly attenuating the 8kHz frequency by about the same amount.
Example of Piano being compressed
Step 3: More EQ + Reel Tape Feel!
Now we’re adding some additional EQ here using Studio One’s ProEQ plugin. The goal here is to touch some of the frequencies we were previously unable too with the passive EQ. We’re giving a ~5db cut around 380Hz as it sounded a bit muddy to me personally, but you may find your piano sounds good there so be careful (there’s no hard and fast rules in EQ!). Alternatively, we’re giving a 3-4db boost around 3kHz to bring up some of the sound characteristics being underappreciated in the current mix.
To be honest I wish I could explain what TapeFat from AirWindows does exactly, but I just use it a lot because it really makes things sound a lot more pleasant to my ear. You can listen to the before and after below, but definitely give TapeFat from AirWindows a download (link here). There’s no science to my madness on TapeFat you get 2 knobs and fiddle around with them until you get something you enjoy!
Example of designed Piano key utilizing the ProEQ plugin
Example of designed snare utilizing the TapeFat Plugin by AirWindows
Step 4: Vinyl Sound Compression + 2 Sides of EQ!
Now Let’s get to the vinyl emulation! Here we’re going to use a vinyl sound sample (link here). First thing to do is play it with the key in the piano roll to get the mix volume level right for the vinyl sample so the snap, crackle, and pop (rice krispies?) is not overpowering the piano. Next we’re going to head back to the Studio One FatChannel plugin and using the compressor and EQ again. This time we’re be a bit more aggressive with the vinyl sample to get reduction around 5-7db so we really get all of the grit we need. In the initial EQ we’re going to cut the lows to avoid muddy interaction with the piano while boosting the mid / high range. Adding a 4db boost around 700Hz and ~6-7db boost around 4.8kHz.
EQ post EQ might seem strange, but trust me it’s worth it! We’re going to boost the s*** out of the mids here around 10-14db gain around ~600-700Hz to really get that vinyl snapping. We’re going to roll off to about 6kHz using a high pass filter to get rid of some of those extra high frequencies as an analog lofi piece of gear (think the Ensoniq Mirage) wouldn’t be able to gather many of those frequencies.
Example of vinyl sound using the Fat Channel Compressor & ProEQ by Presonus
Step 5: Piano + Vinyl to Bus, More Compression & EQ!
Finally nearing the end of what’s to be done here! We’re going to add both the piano and vinyl tracks to a bus track to mix them together as one. This will be the part where we really gel them together.
Once both sounds are assigned to a bus track lets add some compression there so it glues these two sounds together. Here we’re going for 3-5db on reduction and getting gain to a pre-matched level as mentioned in prior steps.
Next we’re really gonna sculpt this up with the EQ! We’re going to throw a low-pass filter to roll off anything below ~200Hz (your piano may sound different so listen before blindly following!). This low pass will remove any artifacts in the low end that we don’t want interfere when you go to actually use this sound to make a song/beat and have other instruments for the low end. We’re again going to give a very slight 1-2db bump around 600Hz and a similar 1-3db bump around 6-7kHz (boy, that EQ was underwhelming for saying “really gonna sculpt this up”).
Example of Piano & Vinyl sound ran through FatChannel & ProEQ plugins by Presonus
Final Step: Reverb!
As No science on this one – find a nice reverb setting you enjoy. I’m using a Warm Plate within the OpenAir reverb plugin default to Studio One.
Final LoFi Piano sample being ran through OpenAir by PreSonus with the low ends getting rolled off via a high pass filter
Congratulations on creating your own lofi piano sample! Hope you find this helpful, and some awesome use cases to use some of these techniques. Don’t forget to show us what you’ve put together on Instagram: @lofi_weekly & @icouldBeyu !
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