How to Make 808s Hit HARD

[Take your hip-hop beats to the next level and also check out 808 Warfare]

This article has pretty much been due for a while. Making 808s really hit hard is a little tricky. But I’m going to break it down along with some audio examples.

Don’t forget to grab the free sample pack at the bottom of the post!

So here we go: how to make 808 kicks hit really hard.

Sine Waves

First, an 808 kick is a catch-all for sine-wave-based kicks. Many “808s” are not actually from a Roland TR-808 at all. “808s and Heartbreaks,” for example, primarily relies on 909s.

You can make a decent, or even exceptional 808 from any synth that has an isolated sine-wave oscillator. So don’t feel you have to be limited to an 808 to get a great “808″ kick source sound.

And the source sound really is key. Nothing beats an 808 that just fits the record. About 50% of the time, when I’m doing a record with an 808 kick line (which is pretty often) — I just turn it up! I set it in the mix where I like it, and that’s the start and end of it.

Arrangement

Of course, to have an 808 that just fits in the record, you need an arrangement that makes sense for it.

Let’s say you want a clean, subby 808 that stands out. Like the song “Twisted” by Gorilla Zoe. That’s a lot of clean 60hz. You’ll notice the record is very sparse. Keeping the bass and mid-range fairly open will allow the 808 to stand out.

But not every record warrants a sparse arrangement.

Let’s look at “John” by Lil Wayne and Rick Ross. In this record, you’ll notice the 808 has a lot of “tone” to it, and there is a punchy kick dubbed in with it. The 808 really isn’t that subby. Having this extra octave and dubbed punchy kick helps the 808 cut through the mix.

And one of my favorite 808 sounds still has to be “6 foot 7″ by Lil Wayne.

In this record, the 808 is distorted and given a sparse arrangement, allowing it to fill out a large part of the frequency spectrum. The distortion is really well done, giving the 808 a very exciting character.

Processing Techniques

Now, on to the techniques. I’ve included an audio sample of all 808s played in succession for you to download and use if you’d like. They all stem from the original 808 sample. The common theme here is “overtones”. In almost every example I’m generating some kind of harmonic content that let’s the 808 feel more present without actually increasing the volume of the 808 itself. All examples are level matched, meaning they have the same amplitude, even if they appear to be louder or quieter.

1. Original 808

Choosing a good 808 to begin with is key. This 808 is an actual TR-808 kick resampled through an MPC. The output is run just a touch hot (not red though), which gives it just a bit of grit while retaining the sense of dimension. This is a really good, clean, 808 sound.

2. Saturation

Saturation is just a friendly name for subtle distortion. On this I’m using a plugin called Decapitator. I’m using just a hint of it, and I’m also using the “thump” setting on the hi pass filter. What that means is that I’m using a hi-pass filter, and wherever I set the frequency gets a big boost.

What’s happening is a complex sum of many things: the saturation effect is adding subtle compression and overtones, while choking off some of the higher overtones, and the filter is boosting the sub but also shortening the decay tail. It’s a lot. And remarkably doesn’t sound all that different from the original. You lose a little of the “bounce” and “fullness”, but you get a little more “punch” and “forwardness.” Only context can tell you what’s better.

3. Bit-Crushing

Bit-crushing is yet another form of distortion. It’s unique in that it comes from digitally reducing the resolution of a sound. The classic SP-12 sound partially comes from the fact that it’s a 12-bit sampler. !llmind’s drums are often bit crushed to give them that extra gruff tone. This particular example is crushed and then low-pass filtered to get rid of some of the high end digital distortion that stems from it.

4. Distortion

In this example I am running the 808 into the tube amp in my compressor (not doing any compression) and turning the gain up all the way. This analog clipping creates some really crazy sounding overtones. I’m then using an EQ to boost those overtones, and a compressor to reshape the attack to have a similar attack as the original.

You’ll notice this 808 appears a lot louder than the others. That’s because our ear hears distortion and midrange tones as being louder than low end. There’s also a little more sustain in the overall signal. If I was mixing someone else’s record, this is probably too extreme of a process — I’d certainly be speaking with the producer if I wanted to take the 808 in this direction. If you are using hardware, a really good way to get this effect is to run out of the line output of your sampler/drum machine into the DI of a preamp and over-drive the gain. From there, a fader on a console or inline pad can reduce the level before hitting the digital to analog converters.

5. Saturation and Multiband Compression

Here I’m using Slate Virtual Tape Machine saturation plugin to generate those overtones. Then I’m using multiband compression to extend the decay of the overtones. Starting to see a theme here? This is an approach I use pretty frequently when I want to put a little hair on an 808 and make it pop on smaller speakers.

6. Layer another kick

Have your cake and eat it to. This is a basic 909 punch kick dubbed on top of the 808. I’ve faded the attack of the 808 so that as the 909 is decaying out the 808 is coming in. The benefit here is that the 909 has a lot more energy in that primary bass range (90-200hz). Our ear and most playback systems will hear this better than sub range. You can also manually beef up the sustain of the 808 to get a big punch with a fat tail.

7. Enhancers

This has two instances of Maxxbass, which is a Waves plugin. Maxxbass is a bass enhancer. It generates overtones that make the fundamental tone appear louder. There are a number of programs that do this. What I’m doing here is enhancing the sub, which gives me a little more clean overtone, and then enhancing the 120hz area after that. Essentially I’m enhancing those overtones with more overtones.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. Credits include Snoop Dogg, Gorilla Zoe, Arrested Development, Dizzee Rascal, Gift of Gab, J-Son and many others. Get in touch at Weiss-Sound.com.
  • http://entelleckt.com/exclusive-mp3 Entelleckt | Mike Wyatt

    Great read! Question: How would you go the opposite direction? Say you get an 808 to mix and it is too excited/distorted. How would you [whatever the opposite of distort] it?

    • http://www.soundcloud.com/2beeps Matt Verzola

      I’d try to Low-Pass filter it. A lot of the overtones from distortion are harmonics that are higher in the spectrum.

    • http://entelleckt.com/exclusive-mp3 Entelleckt | Mike Wyatt

      Thanks! That makes perfect sense. I’ll try that next time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Storyville Matthew Weiss

      What a great question! I literally had to do that earlier today. In general, I find it’s easier when the producer distorts the 808 – even if they go a little overboard – than to design the distortion myself. So I’d rather start with something too cooked and work back a bit.

      As Matt said below a low-pass filter can be a great start. You don’t really usually need much above 1-2k. In this particular mix today, I actually liked the upper midrange stuff. It was the 500hz range that was just too gunky. So I had to ease some of that out, and a notch around 200hz as well.

      Lastly, you can kind of have your cake and eat it too with multiband compression. Let’s say you want those gnarly overtones, but you don’t want them clogging up the mix. You can use a multiband like Ozone, which conveniently has a gate – and you can shorten the duration of the overtones. And/or compress just the subby 60hz part and extend the sustain.

      It’s all about using your imagination to hear what you want, and then reasoning out how to accomplish that goal!

  • http://twitter.com/theaudiogeek Jon Tidey

    Hi guys, I can’t see the examples at the end. The players load then disappear. The grooveshark and spotify embeds work fine though.

    • http://DanComerchero.com/ Dan Comerchero

      hmm thanks for the heads up. appears to be a an issue w/ the plugin and firefox.

  • Joe Alvarez

    Great article!!!Thank you!

  • Alex Burk

    Thank you so much!!!!!!!

  • Efficiency Man

    Pretty useful article.

  • juize27

    great info !!!!

  • http://www.producerspot.com/ Producer SPOT

    a very pleasant reading for a warm May evening!