How to Create a LoFi Hi-Hat with Free Plugins
Step 1: Any DAW Default Synthesizer will do (or get more fancy as you please)!
What is lofi music without a muted yet somewhat crisp high-end hi-hat in the mix? Throwing those in a non-quantized pattern that has some swing is the secret sauce that has made so many people groove to lofi hip hop.
As always, the synth 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 Mai Tai synth VST that is included with my Studio One 4 DAW (link here). Here we are shaping the foundation for the hi-hat so you’re free to get creative, but lets walk through our thinking when designing this. Here we just dropped a 1/16th piano note at C4 in piano roll as a starting point. With Mai Tai we decided to use a triangle waveform in the oscillator 1, and pitch it up an extra octave as you can see in the top left of the Mai Tai interface picture. In addition, there is no use for the second oscillator so the volume level is turned down to 0.
Next was focusing on the “noise” module. Similarly, Feel free to deviate from this and potentially add some vinyl hiss or other lofi background noise as we did in our “How to Create a LoFi Piano with Free Plugins.” Now lets move to the sound envelopes! Being this is a hi-hat you don’t want much sustain and/or minimal release (I prefer some slight reverb later in the mix). Attack is set to basically 0 here so the hat hits immediately and the envelopes fall off pretty quickly.
Lastly – make sure all your FX are off in your synth (or else you could spend 20 mins trying to understand why you hear delay…..as I did….).
Example of raw hi-hat at C4
Step 2: EQ
Now that we have a foundation set up for the hi-hat let’s get to the fun manipulation FX!
Here for simplicity we’re using Studio One 4’s default EQ plugin Pro EQ (any EQ will work). Given this is a hi-hat and will be played with a conjunction of other sounds we want to add a high-pass filter to get rid of the low end to avoid muddying up any instruments in the low-range. We’ve done a modest high-pass to ~650Hz. In this unique case we decided on also adding a bit of a low-pass filter while increasing the high-range. You will notice a low-pass filter around 6.3kHz with a ~5db bump in the ~4.8-5k range. This is meant to exaggerate the high end although later we may decide to dull it a bit more.
Example of raw hi-hat post-EQ
Step 3: Light Distortion Time…
Now that we’ve exaggerated the high-end in the mix, lets lightly distort it a bit. You can use any distortion plugin you have here, but my advice is be careful here – it is very easy to quickly over-distort (and much harder to tone back…). We’re using RedLightDist by Presonus (included in Studio One). In RedLightDist you can control the drive, distortion setting (Soft Tube), and the stage (which is the intensity of that distortion setting) which we’ve put on Stage I.
In the bottom left corner you can see “Low Freq” & “High Freq,” these are acting as soft high pass & low pass filters. We’ve decided to ultimately dull down the prior high frequency range quite a bit dialing it back down to 1.45kHz and similiarly adding a high pass at ~200Hz. Goal here is to dirty it up a bit and start getting that lofi, raw feel!
Example of hi-hat utilizing RedLightDist
Step 4: Compression + EQ!
Next we’re heading to the Studio One FatChannel plugin and using the compressor and EQ (any compressor / EQ combo will do). We’re only adding slight compression here looking to get the reduction around 3-5dB. Once we hit the target reduction levels you need to add back some gain to compensate for the reduction. I typically use a level meter on my master track here to match the pre/post compression sound levels.
More EQ! Here we’re going to add a 5dB gain around 1.3kHz, with a ~6.5dB cut around 2.7kHz, and shelf cut of ~4.8dB around 10kHz. This is used to get a texture you think you’d enjoy using so this is really all in your control!
Example of hi-hat post-Fat Channel Compressor/EQ
Step 5: Multiband Compressor + EQ!
We’re getting close!
The goal of a multiband compressor is to divide frequency spectrums into different sections and allow you to compress them separately. The main goal here is to further compress only the high-range frequencies. Using the PreSonus default plugin, Multiband Dynamics, although there are a number of free ones on the market which I’ve seen people use. Next is to add a bit more compression to the high-end think about 5-7db and didn’t add back any gain, mostly used it as a way to bring down the high-ends via compression.
Time to sculpt it a bit further with some EQ! Start by to cutting ~5.5db around 1kHz with a 1Q value, and ~4db around ~2kHz with a 6Q value. Now time to go back to exaggerate the high-end that we’ve dulled down a bit now that it is a bit more gritty due to the gradual add more FX. Let’s add a monstreous ~11.5dB gain at ~7.5kHZ with a 1Q value.
Example of hi-hat ran through Multiband Compressor
Example of hi-hat post EQ
Final Step: Reverb!
No science on this one – find a nice reverb setting you enjoy. I’m using the “Snare Drum – Bright” within the OpenAir reverb plugin (included with Studio One).
Final LoFi hi-hat sample post OpenAir Reverb by PreSonus
Congratulations on creating your own lofi hi-hat sample – let’s now include it into a break to hear it within a song context! Ultimately we hope you find this walk-through 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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