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Tips for Mixing 808’s in a Hip-Hop Mix


Learn to mix hip-hop and learn more about mixing 808s.

Hey folks, Matthew Weiss here.

Gonna go over some of the mixing techniques I used in this ‘You A Hitta’ record. First lesson is we’re gonna go over the 808. We have an 808 here…

[808 kick drum]

What I have to do is determine the role the 808 is playing. The 808 in this particular case is meant to stand on it’s own. It’s almost acting like a synth bass. Because it’s playing the role of almost a synth bass, it needs to stand out on small speakers. It should have a good tone quality — a forward tone quality to it — it needs to stand up in the mix.

With 808’s, it’s really always a negotiation between the fundamental frequency and the overtones.

[solo 808]

I can say two things about the 808. The first is it has some distortion on it. Meaning there’s presence of overtones, but it’s very dark like it was rolled off. What we’re gonna do is emphasize the higher tones in the 808 to get it to stand up in the mix. First thing is add a subtle amount of overdrive. Even if there’s distortion on the 808, I find a little saturation helps get the frequency content excited and present.

First move is to pull up the Decapitator, and give it a bit of distortion.

[808 + SoundToys Decapitator]

You hear that buzzy quality. That’s what I’m trying to bring out. Here’s my original 808.

[808 before and after SoundToys Decapitator saturation]

It’s a subtle difference, you hear it more when I turn the drive up on the Decapitator. I usually turn it up to where I really hear it and then back it off. It’s just meant to sort of excite the sound.
The difference is this: if you hear distortion, it’s distortion. If you feel distortion, it’s saturation.

Next move is to bring out this tonality here, the harmonic quality of the 808.

[Original 808]

808 [after H-EQ]

Arguably that doesn’t sound better. It sounds like it’s got more tone but less power. This frequency is the fundamental frequency around 50 Hz. Then we have these first couple of overtones. We have something at 100 Hz, and 150 Hz. So that’s the harmonic series. 50 Hz, 100 Hz, 150 Hz — That next little peak is gonna be at 200 Hz. That’s the harmonic overtone series. That’s creating the color we’re hearing in the 808. What I’m doing is using an EQ to boost the first and a bit of the second overtone. So that’s why the 808 suddenly sounds a lot less powerful.

[808 + EQ]

But it’s also the tonality that’s going to allow it translate onto laptop speakers, smaller speakers and also present more of it’s melodic quality in the mix. Let’s restore the power we lost while keeping the tone.

I’m using this Manny Marroquin plugin, the tone shaper. It’s basically a sort of simplified multiband compressor.

[808 with and without Waves Manny Marroquin Tone Shaper plugin]

Notice on my peak meter nothing has changed. It’s the same level but you feel a lot more of that power because of the multiband action. It’s emphasizing those lower tones in a really cool way. I’ve got lots of tone in the 808 now, but now I still have that sense of power. Last thing I’m doing — and you can do this pretty much on almost any 808 anytime and it usually works — is using a bit of RBass tucked down, I’ve got the intensity at like 17.5 so it’s pretty subtle and it sounds like this.

[808 + Waves RBass]

It’s kind of like somebody shined a light on the 808. I don’t know how else to describe it, it’s like a little bit of it becomes more obvious. It makes a pretty big difference in the mix.

[808 + full mix]

So it just makes it stand out a little more in a subtle way. And it’s doing that by enhancing the harmonics. Kind of what we’ve been doing this whole way through. So we go from this. Which is good, but it’s kind of dark and sort of sits in the background. To this. Where it has this sort of subtle but present life to it that allows it to step forward in the mix. It’s like — originally it sort of sits in the speakers — and then with all of this harmonic enhancement it kind of comes out of the speaker a little bit.

It’s gonna translate better on most playback systems too because I’m giving it more of that emphasis in that natural bass range, which almost always translates in a more accurate way than say the 50 Hz range, which can be really hit or miss depending on what you’re listening on.

So that’s the 808 for You A Hitta.


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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch:
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