808s are a pain in the you-know-what.
It’s nearly impossible to make them cut through a mix. They disappear on laptop speakers. And they often compete with the kick and bass—causing a boomy, muddy mess.
If you’re struggling to make your 808s sound clear and punchy, you’re not alone.
Don’t worry—these 5 tips will help. Read on to learn the secrets to crafting 808s that sound larger than life.
1. Start With The Right Sample
There’s no point trying to polish a turd.
But when it comes to 808s, that’s what many mixers do.
If you’re working with a bad 808 sample, you’re making the job harder than it needs to be. Instead, start with the right ingredients.
Look for 808 samples that are clean and punchy. Listen for odd overtones and harsh harmonics. It’s better to start with something a bit plain–Jane. You can always add character later.
For starters, I recommend Goldbaby’s Tape808 samples. Many producers consider these to be the best.
Start with a great sample, and the rest will be easy.
2. Shape Around Your 808s
Many mixers try to make their 808s cut by adding things.
More low end, distortion, tape saturation…
If your 808 isn’t cutting through, it’s probably because something else is getting in its way.
This means you’ll often get better results by leaving the 808 alone, and instead shaping other tracks to fit around it.
If the 808 is dominating the sub-range of the frequency spectrum, you don’t need a lot of sub from anything else. Remove excess low end on tracks that don’t need it. Common culprits include kicks, basses, and synths. High-pass filters are your friends.
Give the 808 room to breathe, and it will often cut through without any processing.
You can pull this off by using a technique called “subtractive EQ.” To learn more, watch the video below:
3. Add Distortion
808s are made up almost entirely of low-end frequencies. This is why they’re tricky to mix.
While you might hear them on big speakers, they often disappear on small ones that can’t play back sub frequencies.
So how do you make 808s cut on laptops, earbuds, and iPhones?
Adding distortion to an 808 will create harmonics that extend up the frequency spectrum. Small speakers can play these back, which will help make the 808 cut.
While this technique often works well, be realistic. An 808 will never sound massive on an iPhone. This would defy the laws of physics.
When applying distortion to 808s, subtlety is key. You don’t need to be heavy-handed. A bit of color will do the trick.
4. Consider Length
Often times, 808s ring out too long. This can cause them to trample over the groove of a track.
A boomy, muddy low end.
Length matters. Make sure your 808s cut off before the next kick or downbeat.
If your 808 has already been printed to audio, use volume automation to cut it off manually. If you have access to the MIDI, program the 808 so it releases properly.
When in doubt, shorter works better. This is often the key to fitting 808s into busy tracks.
5. Tweak The Transients
What’s the key to making 808s and kicks fit together?
Tweak the transients.
If your kick has a sharp transient, you don’t need one on the 808 too. Get rid of the transient on the 808, and the two tracks will get out of each other’s way. The kick will provide the initial impact, while the 808 will cover the sustain and body.
You can use sidechain compression to make this happen. Here’s how:
- Add a compressor to the 808.
- Route the kick into its sidechain input.
- Set the attack to its fastest value, so that every time the kick hits, the 808 turns down momentarily. This will shave the transient off the 808.
- Adjust the release until the 808 returns naturally to full volume after the kick hits.
Get this right, and the two sounds will fit together perfectly.
With these 5 tips, you should have everything you need to mix 808s like a pro. I hope they help you make your 808s sound clear, punchy, and larger than life.
Before you go—what’s YOUR favorite technique for mixing 808s? Share it by leaving a comment below.