Ultimate Guide To 808s! (6 tips with examples)
THIS is a step by step tutorial for taking your 808s to the next level and elevating your beats!
For decades, the low-end instrument of choice for producers across the world has been the 808. Released in 1980, the Roland TR-808 drum machine would revolutionize music as we know it today. While we know the 808 to be mostly used in trap music, it's influence can be heard across the industry. For example, 7 rings by Ariana Grande uses an 808 bass with a trap drum pattern. Musicians around the globe have been using 808s for years and will continue to use them until the next new thing comes along.
808s also seem to be one of the biggest struggles for a beginner producer. Their percussive atmosphere mixed with the melodic elements can be confusing and intimidating for someone who is trying to learn how to make beats for the first time. In this blog, I'm going to go over some of the best techniques for making your 808s sound professional and industry standard. Let's get started.
Before you can produce an 808 pattern, you need to find an 808 sample that fits your beat and sounds good in the mix. Lucky for you, here at WavGrind we provide FREE drum samples! Click "Melody + Drum Kits" at the top of this page and find our drum bundles. Our Free Factory Drum Kit contains 30 royalty free melodies and 448 drum sounds. This includes 808s, claps, hi hats, snares, cymbals, and anything else you could need.
FOLLOW THE ROOT NOTE
When creating an 808 pattern to layer with a melody, you need to always keep your 808 in key. At such a low octave, it may be hard to tell, but an 808 is a melodic element that needs to follow the same scale as the melody. The easiest way to keep your 808 in key is by following the root note of your chord progression. If you made your melody from scratch, this should be an easy process, but it can be a bit more challenging.
If you made your melody from scratch, the root note is usually the first note in a chord. If you are in the key of C minor, a C minor chord would contain the notes C, D#, G, the first note would be a C. This is the root note for your 808. Be careful with inversions, though. A C minor chord can be flipped in many different ways, but if the chord contains a C, D#, and G, the root note will always be C.
If you are using a premade sample, it can be more difficult to figure out the root notes of the chord progression. The first thing I like to do is go with the tonic of the scale. If you are working with a good producer who is sending you loops, they will include the key of the sample in the title of their file. If the producer says a sample is in C minor, more often than not, the root note of the first chord will be C.
If the chord changes, there are some strategies we can use to decide where to take our 808. The first thing I would do is add an EQ to the sample and solo the lowest frequencies. The bass notes in a sample will usually follow the root note, so you can just copy these.
On top of soloing the bass notes in a sample, bring your 808 up two octaves to hear how the notes sound layered on top of each other. This will help you hear the actual notes of the 808s, as opposed to just hearing the low frequencies.
find your rhythm
Once you know the root notes of your melody, you need to decide where your 808 will actually hit. There are many different options for where and how to add your 808s, but it really comes down to the vibe of your track. No single 808 pattern will sound good with every beat, so try some of these techniques on your beat and decide which to use.
Firstly, you should always have an 808 hit on the first beat of a pattern. A beat drop needs to have the 808 come in on the first beat to bring up the energy of the beat. After the first note, you can decide how much space you want until the next 808 hits. If you want more empty space before your second 808 note, you can place your next one on the fourth beat. This is a simple rhythm that may work for your beat. This is what it should look like:
If you want to add your second note a bit earlier (usually best for slower tempo beats), I would recommend adding it at the 2.5 beat mark. This would hit in between beats 2 and 3. This would usually be right before a snare/clap and can create a lot of bounce for your drum pattern. This is where you would add that note:
After the first bar, you can decide where to add your notes as you go. Feel the bounce of the track and keep enough space for an artist to find their pocket. Experiment with your 808 placing and decide what works best for your production style.
A really important thing about 808 patterns is that they don't get boring. Switch up your pattern every 4-8 bars to make sure the listener does not get bored with your pattern. By switching up your 808 pattern frequently and utilizing transitions, your beat will be more engaging and interesting.
One of the best ways to make your 808 pattern sound more dynamic and unique is by adding high notes at the end of a pattern. These can be octave jumps (meaning you are playing the same note, just at a higher octave) or you can use passing notes, which are notes that are in your scale/chords but not the same note. Listen carefully to your 808 and melody to make sure you are keeping your notes in key and transitioning well back to the beginning of your sample.
All 808 samples vary in length. In this section, we're going to talk about shorter 808s and how to make them sound good. Short 808s are used a lot in faster trap beats like Lil Baby, Future, and Detroit type beats. Generally, a shorter 808 sample would mean using more notes in your pattern. Remember our rhythm from above and use that to your advantage.
To make your short 808s hit hard through the mix, start by adding a Fruity soft clipper plugin to the master of your track. This will make sure your 808 is not clipping over 0db and any audio detected over the red line will be compressed back down to knock harder.
Next, adjust your "out" knob. If your 808 is longer than you want, turning up the out knob will shorten the sample even more. To find the out knob, click on your 808 in the channel rack and you will open the sampler menu. Here, you can find the out knob near the bottom right, in the "Precomputed effects" rack. Adjust this knob so your 808 length is to your liking.
After you adjust your out knob, click the orange highlighted wrench to the left of "Precomputed effects" and adjust the "EQ" knob. This will boost the 808 and make it hit much harder. If you turn the knob up, you will visually see the 808 sample being beefed up. I would recommend only turning this up 3-4 notches because anything higher can get muddy and distorted.
Finally, turn your velocity in the piano roll all the way up. This will really give your 808 the boost it needs to cut through the mix and hit extra hard. If your 808 is getting distorted or muddy at this point, lower the velocity until it sounds better. You can also lower the velocity on 808 notes that are not as important or not emphasized. This will give your pattern more dynamics and sound more engaging.
With short 808s, you can add rolls. 808 rolls are usually in a higher pitch than your root note (remember the octave jumps). Make sure to keep your notes in key. To add an 808 roll, click the paint brush tool at the top left of the piano roll and choose a small interval. I like to go with 1/2 step or 1/3 step for short rolls. Try both if you don't know which one to use and go with the one that works best for your beat. Once you selected the interval, go back to the piano roll and click on the first note of your roll, then drag your paint brush tool to the right as long as you want your roll to go for.
While some beats call for short 808s, others call for long 808s. Longer 808s are used in slower tempo trap or drill beats. With longer 808s, you have the opportunity to layer a kick drum and add a secondary pattern, or add 808 slides.
The first thing you want to do when you are laying a long 808 pattern is adjust your envelope. To get to the envelope menu, click on the 808 sample in the channel rack and click the middle symbol at the top of the sampler that looks like a triangle with three dots. Once you have arrived at your envelope menu, turn these knobs all the way down: ATT, DEC, SUS, REL (attack, decay, suspend, release). Next, turn the HOL knob all the way up. This will make your 808 stop playing once a note has ended in the piano roll, as opposed to continuing to play until the sample ends.
With this envelope, you can just your notes short in the piano roll and the 808 will be cut off. There are a lot of cool things you can do with this. For example, cut off your 808 right when your clap or snare hits. This will create a really nice bounce for your drum pattern and create a pocket in your beat that can be easily filled by a rapper or vocal artist. You can also add a kick drum in the gap from your cut off 808 to your next 808 note.
For longer 808 samples, you usually don't want to add as many notes to your pattern as a short 808 sample. This is because they usually don't hit the same way in the mix. If you want a bass pattern with more notes, I would recommend layering a kick drum with your 808.
In an 808 pattern, layering can be used to emphasize specific notes and make your patterns sound more unique. The two samples I like to layer my 808s with the most are kick drums and open hi-hats. Both of these drum sounds can be used to boost the energy of a specific 808 note.
Before you layer your kick drum, make sure you add your soft clipper plug-in to your master channel. Find a kick sample that blends well with your 808 sample. Sometimes the sounds you choose won't work together and there aren't any fancy tricks or methods to make them sound good. Go through your sample library and find a nice kick that sounds good with your 808.
Don't overuse your kick drum. It should be a tool to emphasize one or two notes every few bars. Unless your 808 has barely any punch, don't add a kick drum to every 808 hit. The point of your kick drum is to bring an extra boost to your low end to increase the energy. If you do this for every 808 note, the energy will die down and the kick won't feel like it's adding as much.
Layering an open hi-hat with your 808s and kicks can create a much fuller sound using all of the frequencies and carrying the bounce of the drum pattern. Like the kick, it's best to add an open hat to the 808 notes that sound most important and need emphasis. Overusing an open hi-hat will add way to much to your higher frequencies and a listener or artist can get annoyed easily. This is why you need to choose your notes wisely.
Use a short and sweet open hi-hat. Choose a sample that won't bleed into other drum sounds and mixes well with your 808. We have many great options in our free packs at the top of this screen!
Sliding 808s can be exactly what you need to bring your bassline. This works mostly with longer 808 samples and are commonly used in drill beats. You can use an 808 slide to create a melodic element in your low end or slide from one root note to the next. Creating an 808 slide is simple.
Start with a note on the root note. Let this note last as long as you want your slide. If you want your slide to go from C to G, add a G note above the C where you want the slide to begin. If you want a slow slide, leave the G note long. If you want a shorter slide, shorten the G note to the length of the slide that you want. Here is an example of setting up a short slide from C to G.
Now double-click the G note using the pencil tool and select the rounded triangle on the left side of the note properties box.
This will cause the note to slide from the C up to the G when played back.
Be creative with your slides! You can slide from note to note using the same bass note or you can create new bass notes by adding more nonsliding notes. There are infinite possibilities when it comes to 808 slides. The most important thing is to make sure you stay in the key of the beat.
808s can be used to really elevate a beat. As we went over, there are so many methods and techniques to make your 808s really stand out. Above all, try as many methods as you can and decide what works best for your production style. Experiment with your 808s to get the best result in your beats!
In summary, here's some 808 tips:
1) Use a good 808 sample
2) Follow the root note of your melody
3) Find your rhythm to bounce off of your drum pattern
4) For short 808s, boost the EQ knob and turn up the velocity
5) For long 808s, adjust your envelope and layer a kick drum
6) Add 808 slides where you see fit!
Written by Jake Tompkins