Getting an 808 to cut through a mix can be challenging. But How well an 808 is mixed can make or break a track.
It carries the track and is a solid anchor in the center of the mix. However, it’s essential to make sure that the 808 can translate as well to lighter sound systems such as earplugs and laptop speakers.
We asked a few of the best producers we know for the techniques that were a game-changer for them. Here are 5 of them. 5 powerful techniques you should be using if you want your tracks to compete against the best beatmakers in the game.
1 – Sound selection
Shit in, shit out, guys! Get the right sound from the beginning is the most critical step in the process. Make sure to get your samples from the most professional sample libraries. The sample should sound good when you listen to it without any processing.
If there is too much work to do so it can sound good, you’re better off picking another sample.
Look for clean and punchy samples that have a consistent body.
2 – Saturate mid and high frequencies
So how can you make your 808’s cut through smartphones, laptops, or earplugs? By applying distortion.
When applying distortion to your 808, you’re basically adding harmonics to your 808. Harmonics are multiples of the fundamental frequency. However, they have a lower amplitude (volume) than the fundamental. So they only add some character to the sound without altering the oomph of the initial sample.
Soft saturation is excellent for exaggerating an 808 kick’s low mid harmonics. But since the goal is to process the mid and high frequencies while keeping the low-end clean, the key is applying light saturation on the lower frequencies and heavier saturation on the mid-range frequencies of the 808.
There are several approaches to applying multiband distortion. For example, you can create a multiband effects processing rack in Ableton Live and apply different distortion amounts to separate bands.
Experiment with different distortion and saturation plugins on the separate bands. For example, try bit-crushing the high band and saturating the mid-band.
Pro Tip: mono the low band, apply a tube amp to the mids, and add stereo width and compression to the highs.
3 – EQ
Add a hi-pass filter to the other tracks to make room for the 808’s low end.
4 – Tune the sample to the key of the song
Out of tune samples are one of the most common mixing issues with inexperienced producers, yet having all your samples in tune is the stepping stone to a great sounding mix later down the road.
This will significantly improve the overall sound of your tracks and help you put your name on the map.
Drop a tuner plugin on your track to learn the precise pitch of any sample. Ableton Live has the aptly named Tuner audio effect that will do just that!
For all non-Ableton users out there, there are free plugins you can use, such as Gtune.
Add heavy saturation to the raw sound if needed to emphasize the harmonics.
Pro Tip: Tuning the 808 to a fifth (+7 semitones) above the fundamental note is another effective technique. This method is useful when the kick and 808 fight to occupy the same frequency range. The fifth separates the two elements while allowing them to play in harmony.
5- Layer 808 with a kick
Layering a punchy top kick sample over your 808 helps it cut through the mix. The 808 kick’s attack is rather thin. So try using a punchier kick focused around 80-100 Hz to provide the front end punch, and gently sidechain the 808 against it. Fades on both samples can replace the need for sidechain and can actually give you more control over the curves of the fades.
What we’re after here is giving the kick drum space to breathe and punch through the troublesome frequencies while allowing the low-end rumble of the 808 to resonate after the initial hit. If your kick has a sharp transient, you don’t need one on the 808 too.
And since an 808 takes up a large chunk of the low-end frequency range, it’s best to layer it with a kick that’s short, tight, and typically in the mid-frequency range.
-The key of an 808 sounds lies in its decay tail. Devote care and attention to the sound’s volume envelope, and apply careful compression if necessary
-A few years ago, waves posted a great article about mixing 808 with tips from renowned producers and mixers. Definitely worth a read!
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