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808s & Thought Breaks

Matt: We’re already laughing and we haven’t intro’d yet!

Samik: I’m sorry! I’m sorry!

Matt: Matthew Weiss —, and, and to my side is…

Samik: Symphony. Hey guys! What’s up? Pro Audio Files.

Matt: Alright. Masterful introduction landed.

We’re going to talk about 808s. Now, I’m going to just get into this before everyone starts dropping their very clever comments in the comments section…

Samik: We lost like 50 people just now. Or 50 more people just tuned in.

Matt: Yes, another video on YouTube about 808s. No, we don’t care that back in your day, people used to play real instruments, you know who you are, in today’s musical world, and one of the things that’s going to come up in this video a lot is in today’s musical world, 808s, if you don’t have an understanding of 808s, you’re not with the times.

Samik: You’re not with the shits.

Matt: You’re not. And it’s — even in country records, you were working on country records that you were using an 808.

Samik: Yeah. Yup.

Matt: Pop music, R&B…

Samik: Everything. Gregorian chant, all of that.

Matt: Yeah, because Gergorian chants have been made in the last 600 years. [laughs] That would be awesome.

Samik: That would be awesome.

Matt: So we’re going to talk about 808s, we’re going to talk about what makes 808s sound cool, how we use them, some engineering stuff, and you sent me an 808 to — yeah.

Samik: I did. I did.

Matt: So I’m going to play that and then I’m going to ask you a whole bunch of questions about it.

Samik: Great.


Matt: That 808 is an asshole.

Samik: It’s an asshole. It’s obnoxious.

Matt: So tell me, you know, what programs do you use to make your 808s, and when you’re making the 808s, what are some of the things you kind of do to give it the life and personality that you want?

Samik: Okay, so programs that I use, the one program I’ve been using recently, especially for that particular 808 is something called 808 Warfare. It’s like a Kontakt library plugin. Or virtual instrument.

I tend to crank the portamento setting on it, and what I did was on top of the portamento setting, I also added a good amount of distortion to it to make it sound super aggressive.

Matt: and it’s not like, fancy, high end distortion.

Samik: No, no, it’s just like, throw some shit on there just to make it sound interesting.

Matt: Yeah, it’s like a cheap digital distortion, but I think because it’s a cheap digital distortion, I think it sounds better with a cheap digital distortion, because if it sounded too polished, it defeats the purpose.

Because as weird as it is to say it, it’s still part of the music, and music still has emotion behind it. Like, the emotion of this is supposed to be like, hella ignorant.

Samik: That’s what it’s called. It’s not that.

Matt: That was the preset! It was Hella Ignorant, so if I were mixing this 808, obviously, I’m doing this outside for context, but I would probably pull up an EQ and…

[808, adjusting EQ]

Samik: Play it up.

Matt: Yeah, just play it up. I take all of those crunchy things. It almost makes it sound like two different sounds.

Samik: No, absolutely.

Matt: But it’s like…

Samik: It works.

Matt: It works. It reminds me of taking the quarter inch plug and tapping the end of it when it’s on your input. Makes that voltage crackle noise.

Samik: Yeah. Daft Punk made a whole record out of that.

Matt: Insanity. Pure insanity.

Samik: So cool.

Matt: But I mean, I think it’s also — not to derail too much, but I think from my point of view, and 808 doesn’t even have to be an 808.

Samik: No, not at all.

Matt: Because Heartbreak and 808s is the classic example where most of the 808s on there are 909s.

Samik: Heartbreaks and 909s.

Matt: Which is of course, 101 more than an 808. [laughs] Yeah, it just doesn’t rhyme, so you know, eight rhymes with break.

Samik: Yeah, absolutely.

Matt: I’m going to play one that I was working on yesterday, and it’s a completely different sounding 808, and I’ll sort of explain the idea behind that.


Well, they couldn’t hear you say that, but that is cool.

Samik: Oh, that’s cool I said.


Matt: So I’m getting my props. [laughs] Allow me to be caucasian for a second, I am getting my propers. My due propers.

Yeah, so I made that with the Juno 106 that’s right back there. It’s not a — that’s not even an 808 at all, and what I did was I basically made this little square bass, bass synth type of thing, and I’ll pull it up real quick.

It originally started as this.

[bass synth]

Samik: Oh, that’s cool.

Did you hear it that time?

Matt: Well yeah, probably, because solo buttons. You know.

So what I did is I took this transient designer, and I pulled up the punch of the low end.

Samik: Oh, okay.

Matt: To make it more like a kick? So once I do that, I’ll do a quick before and after.

[bass synth, before and after transient designer]

Right? It gets a bunch more attack in there, and I threw one of the greatest distortion plugins of all time, Decapitator, it’s absolutely sick.

[bass synth with Decapitator]

So there, I’m using — it’s like, it’s a much subtler, cleaner distortion, but it’s because the 808 that I was making this for is like, a softer pop record.

Samik: Right, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that makes sense.

Matt: Whereas yours is like a gangster, kill everyone you know, rap type of tune. [laughs] Sorry, Leo. Shoutout to Leo.

Samik: Absolutely!

Matt: So I’m going to go back to your 808 real quick, because you’re doing a lot of cool stuff in this.


Like that, [imitates 808]. That bend to me is like…

Samik: It’s very ignorant. It’s like, Teddy Riley ignorant with an 808.

Matt: Yeah. [laughs] It’s Teddy Riley 808s.

So what is — how do you make that bend?

Samik: Okay, some of these plugins like 808 Warfare for example have a portamento setting, so you can go to one of the — there’s a little wrench I think on top of each of these Kontakt instruments. You can click the wrench, and there should be a bunch of different settings and things you can route, and I just crank up the portamento setting to make it do that.

But if you do it with close notes, it doesn’t work as well as if you were to do it with octave notes. So you gotta octave that shit to make it sound that drastic, that trademark.

Matt: Trademark Samik. Octave that shit. Next sample pack. Link in the description. [laughs]

Samik: People are going to be like, “Really?”

Matt: So to start wrapping this up, to you, what is the definition — like, what makes for a good 808 versus a bad 808?

Samik: Um, I would say the first thing I start with is the actual sound of the preset, or if it’s, you know, if it’s a preset, just the actual sound of the 808, and what context I’m using it for. I tend to go for the aggressive ones for the more Hip Hop stuff, even if I’m doing a Pop record and I want something to just really cut through, use a more aggressive 808, and if I’m doing a country record, I’ll look for something that’s more of a round, full bodied 808.

So the sound selection has to be important, then I can tweak it from there, because no one has the time to…

Matt: It’s good if it’s accomplishing what it’s supposed to accomplish. Yeah, if it’s supposed to be adding attitude, and it doesn’t add attitude, it’s a bad 808. If it’s not supposed to add attitude, and it is adding attitude, it’s the same 808 maybe, but in the wrong context, now it’s a bad 808.

Samik: So yeah, for sure.

Matt: For sure. I’m channeling — that’s my due propers! I’m getting my due propers for sure! Do you have any questions?

Samik: Nah, I’m with the shits, man, I’m good. So I mean, unless I have questions in the comments.

Matt: This isn’t a live feed.

Samik: Whatever, I mean, they’ll look at it at some point.

Matt: I guess the only thing I would want to add is probably that a lot of what makes an 808 good, in my opinion is how well it gels with the kick drum?

Samik: Right, yeah, absolutely.

Matt: Because a lot of times, when we’re hearing an 808, we’re actually hearing a kick and an 808.

Samik: Right, yeah.

Matt: So from the engineering point of view, I’ll make sure that my 808 and my kick are — the phase relationship is very constructive, meaning when the kick is telling the speakers to push out, the 808 is also telling the speakers to push out.

Samik: And maybe sometimes the tuning of the kick I guess.

Matt: Even the tuning of the kick, absolutely. I get pretty micro-managerial. I should do a workshop on 808s. Wink-wink. Wink-wink. It’s not out yet. Wink-wink.

Soft pitch from afar! [laughs] No, but I mean, there is a lot to it to making, like, because you can get something good, and then perfecting it is kind of like, it’s a very meticulous process, but anyway, so yeah. I think I’m good.

Samik: Yeah.

Matt: Yeah. Yas. [laughs] I know. Young pop stars are starting to rub off on me. Pause?

Anyway, now’s a good time to sign off, so hope you all learned something. Matt Weiss, signing off.

Samik: Symphony.

Matt: We’re going to find a custom.

Samik: I’ll make my own custom. I don’t know.


Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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