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A Guide to Filling Your Ears


Written by Joshua Black (he/him) | Contributing Writer

Illustration by Tracy Luong (she/her) @unchi.ko | Contributing Artist

You’re set up to study but just can’t focus? That’s ok. It makes sense, considering the past few months have been filled with drinking, burning in the sun, and anything else that got you far away from thinking about studying. If you’re trying to get back into that studious state and happen to feel your attention pulling away, I have some musical recommendations for you.

As someone with many years of studying, I’ve found that particular genres of music do well at getting the brain cogs turning. Because I’m so generous, I’ve curated a selection of noises that can hopefully get you concentrated, feeling successful and eventually turn you into the lo-fi study anime girl of your academic dreams.

Best if you’re studying English or communications.

Let’s start with a classic. As the name suggests, lo-fi hip hop is music with low fidelity and borrows many sounds of hip hop - though to be honest, the music strays far from hip-hop conventions. You won’t find lo-fi replicas of what Travis Scott, Future, or Drake beats - Instead, it leans more into jazz rap, with a spaced out piano or saxophone. Throw in some modern, EQ’d drum kicks and it rounds out to be very slow, spacey, and minimalistic.

Lo-fi hip hop rose to mainstream prominence thanks to the YouTube channel Lo-fi Girl, (Originally named Chilled Cow until 2021). Lo-fi Girl started streaming in 2017, and its second stream lasted over 13 thousand hours until a copyright strike temporarily shut down the channel. Although this wasn’t the first channel to stream lo-fi hip hop, it stands as the most well-known, cementing a place in history along with its iconic anime-inspired imagery of a girl studying in a cozy room while it rains outside. How aesthetic.

Where to Start

Just type “beats to relax/study to” into YouTube. I’m certain you’ll find something.

Best if you’re studying art history or classics.

Barber Beats is the spiritual successor to, or at least the latest wave of, Vaporwave. But don’t be discouraged by its relation; if you ever heard Vaporwave, you’d be right in imagining it’s run its course for innovation, but Barber Beats is a far more refreshing rebirth. While it often samples 80s jazz and pop as well, it’s yet to be boxed in and is memed to hell. Turning both the pitch and tempo down, it’s even more melodic, bassy, simplistic, and well, I’d like to think a bit cooler. It doesn’t force the “this is a vinyl you found in the boot of whatever car they drove in Miami Vice’’ vibe. Its simple and relaxing flow offers something new and niche for studying.

The name of the microgenre comes from its almighty king and pioneer, Haircuts for Men. Sites say it gained mainstream popularity in early 2022, though I remember discovering HFM on my YouTube homepage as early as 2020. Perhaps this is the fault of leaving music history up to bloggers - or maybe I’m just really cool. I’m not gonna lie to you though, it seems like it’s becoming pretty diluted with how many damn artists and albums appear interchangeable on my YouTube homepage.

Where to Start

I recommend the artists: Haircuts for Men, Oblique Occasions, and Macroblank. Honestly, you’d be sorted with any album that has naked Greek men or a foreign alphabet on it.

Best if you’re studying computer science or software engineering.

If you’re not in it for the vibes and just need to get stuff done quickly, try harnessing the energy of Jungle DnB. Being distinctly UK 90s, it’s not as West Auckland high school party-core as modern DnB. It won’t have as many distracting womp-womps, as it relies more on reggae and hip-hop samples to create an atmosphere. People more versed in music than I even dare to compare its soundscape to a movie score. Though there’s no beating around the bush, it’s DnB - it’s the damn predecessor to DnB. If you’re not remotely interested in high-pace drum kits and artificial, womp-like noises, then move along, buster!

Born from the streets of London at the dawn of the 1990s, it evolved as a more “intelligent” form of breakbeat hardcore. Jungle DnB appears to have been the eventual and inevitable culmination of UK rave, US-imported hip hop and funk, and reggae from its Jamaican demographic. This is the part where I can finally tell you Jungle DnB is also the staple genre of 1990s-early 00s video game soundtracks! Thanks to composers such as Soichi Terada, if you ever played the PS2, you’ve probably already heard Jungle DnB.

Where to Start

I’d give the album Sumo Jungle by Soichi Terada a play and have a look at the Youtube accounts FIREWALKER, for atmospheric drum and bass compilations that will make you go ⋐(◉▾◉)⋑ & Ryland Kurshenoff (my personal fav of theirs being Nintendo 64 jungle mix 01).

Best if you’re studying biomedical science or chemistry.

Speaking of getting stuff done, what do you listen to if your assignment is due TOMORROW and you HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED!? You’ve thought about what you need to do for weeks, but you’ve been doom-scrolling instead. Well then - it’s time to step it up, disassociate, and work like a machine! I was in this exact situation once, and at my absolute lowest I discovered Larry Fisherman’s Run on Sentences Volume 1, which did just the trick. A mash of bizarre samples and demanding instrumentals, the harmonious and surreal soundscape of neo-psychedelia/acid jazz/psychedelic soul/whatever a bad LSD trip sounds like. It probably works so well as music to write to, because nothing else could possibly be more distracting. You’ll never feel more tied to your computer.

Maybe something like: Within psychedelic jazz/soul, there aren’t any solid contenders for artists that epitomise the genre as a whole. An artist/band (maybe just stick to one or other) might create that perfect trippy mix of jazz and random violent noise on one song, yet often have a hundred other songs that miss the mark. Just don’t get into an all-consuming anxiety state about assignments too often, and you won’t need to explore this niche too much.

Where to Start

While this is my secret weapon, I’ll pass down my knowledge of three albums to you: Larry Fisherman - Run on Sentences Vol 1 or 2, Lil Yachty - Let’s Start Here, and Weather Report - Heavy Weather.

So much research has gone into how Lo-Fi Hip Hop being “study music done right”, and while those studies aren’t wrong, don’t let the memeification of these streams convince you that it’s your only option - there are alternatives! Hell, I didn’t even touch on listening to straight-up café or nature atmosphere, but that can tie you in even better than being in a café itself! My simple anecdotal truth is that it’s all about making sure your distractions are coming from where you’re working. If any of this music was playing in the room next door, you would struggle, but wearing headphones can be the best thing to glue your juicy booty to the desk. I hope I piqued your interest in some of these options, and to be honest, this was just an excuse for me to show off my taste.


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