My Observations: Reflecting on the State of Lofi Hip-Hop A Year Later
the listen and loop culture continues to defy expectations as the engagement remains strong, but it’s getting crowded. How did we get to this point?
Back in 2012, YouTube rolled out a major fundamental change in its algorithm in order to reclassify their engagement metric. Instead of opting to gauging popularity through video views, this algorithm specifically targeted “watch time”, akin to how much of the video was viewed, and it became a pivotal metric that would shift the dynamic of what videos became popular and how video creators would optimize their content.
This algorithm change would lead to an emphasis of long-form video content and with the advent of Youtube Live, live-streamed content would naturally garner its audience and propagate its superstars — the most notable influence from the platform being the popularity of live-streamed gaming. Youtube’s minor change would mark the significant surge of eSports gaming as a billion-dollar industry.
However, this algorithm change also brought about the emergence of instrumental music as a popular medium. The lofi hip-hop music community, over time, would unknowingly become one of the independent powerhouses of the music industry as streaming services like Youtube and later Spotify would enhance its reach; the former by an algorithm change and the latter by the platform’s need to engage with more licensable content. People could easily shrug it off as an anomaly of the music industry, but the subgenre has proven to be resilient in terms of both community and engagement.
On the subject of the 24/7 lofi hip-hop channels that became the subject of music journalism earlier this year, these enterprises from young Youtube entrepreneurs are still as resilient as the music itself, evolving beyond their Youtube channel ad revenue as a loss leader and slowly focusing on the ARPU of their demographics.
Some companies like Chillhop Music have opted to develop label services for the music they cater while others resorted to building out more conducive monetization resources: music licensing, sync libraries, Twitch micropayments, ad monetization from Tik Tok for creators, merchandising, and access to potentially more physical products via services like Discord and Patreon. Even live touring opportunities for these brands and producers, if properly organized, could yield serious additional income.
Lofi hip-hop present day is very contemporary DIY culture and we’re seeing it emerge from decentralized self-organized fan communities. And we’re seeing the next step of growth for these businesses that will coalesce within the next year or two. Although growth is noticeably slowing down, we can point out that the subgenre has managed to retain its audience and spur engagement. People continually rally behind this genre and it’s become apparent that this is a bigger movement than we had imagined because of the Internet.
Lofi hip-hop present day is very contemporary DIY culture and we’re seeing it emerge from decentralized self-organized fan communities.
It’s been a year since I wrote an article explaining how one particular subgenre, lofi hip-hop, became one of the most powerful phenomenas in the music industry. The platform that streaming services like Youtube and Spotify endowed to the music has allowed for it to become widely accessible. Lofi hip-hop has been around since J Dilla and Slum Village, but it’s a different interpretation of instrumental hip-hop that is much more conceptual via juxtapositions of other cultural norms such as anime from the early 2000s— it’s a genre that is as conceptually powerfully especially when people listen to it passively. Simply, rather than trying to stand as production for rappers, the standalone production for the purpose of aesthetic and the signature lofi sound are what grants its appeal.
From when I last written about lofi hip-hop, the audience reach of lofi hip-hop within the playlist economy has arguably doubled or even tripled — with the most influential of the artists able to maintain their listener engagement without the frequent support of official editorial playlisting. Editorial playlisting is still a strong player for reinforced streaming consumption, but the lack of quality from that curation within the streaming platform has been called into question since the departure of Spotify editorial lead Athena Koumis, who had been responsible for the curation of the instrumental hip-hop playlists. Nevertheless, notable lofi hip-hop producers have also seen much growth in their artistry on streaming platforms including within circulation of user-generated playlists and algorithmically-curated playlists like My Daily Mix, Discover Weekly, and Release Radar. For example, a producer that was cited in my last article, Tomppabeats, has seen a major increase in his music’s consumption and following since noting in about a 250% increase in total listeners, 13% in monthly streams, and a 96% increase in total followers on Spotify since last year*.
Although notable producers such as Tomppa have seen much growth since last year, what is concerning is the ease of entry for production into the subgenre which has led to oversaturation and stress upon the subgenre itself. What continues to concerns me is the amount of oversaturation in the genre and this is not a new topic of conversation, but what is bewildering is to not see enough producers able to push their artistic statement from the noise. It is an open secret in the music industry that producers outside of the scene are bandwagoning onto the creation of an lofty lofi hip-hop discography as a quick cash-grab scheme in light of Spotify playlist potential. Another risk factor that continues to present itself in the lofi narrative is how limited this organic reach really pushes outside of the curated platforms. What spurs fans to go beyond the streaming platform for these artists? Who’s bridging the connection between fan and artist for these producers?
Certainly, not any platform yet.
The problem is apparent that we are not seeing platforms, content publishers (ie YouTube channels), record labels, and distributors doing enough to address the connection that goes beyond a streaming platform whether that foundation is in artist development, live touring, product marketing, education, etc. If we do see an infrastructure, it’s primitive.
Sampling and copyright remained a huge topic of conversation within the space this year as an onslaught of bedroom producers faced the monetization from their songs claimed on the YouTube space by collection specialist companies like Create Music Group and royalties relinquished from an unauthorized use of a sample. One of the most prominent figures of the lofi hip-hop movement Shiloh Dynasty, a vocalist who is most frequently championed as a beacon of the movement, is an example of an artist within the space who has seen the benefits of working with a collection specialist company to monetize from unauthorized use of her recorded works.
The jarring fact is that most producers who utilize uncleared samples don’t understand or have access to properly clear a sample. There hasn’t been any movement from streaming platforms, content platforms, or the record labels that are involved in this space that have specifically aligned their priorities towards music education — it could be anything that educates producers on responsible sampling, rights for copyright, production techniques, know-how into acquiring legal help, etc. This is also an insight as to what type of content might be coming in 2019.
From my observation: the strongest asset for these producers is the culture and community the music has aligned but differentiation is needed. Authenticity is needed because these producers will continue to get the flak of being pigeonholed as a “bedroom producer” or a “Soundcloud producer” or a “lofi hip-hop producer” unless they prove their audience otherwise.