Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers and today, you’re gonna discover five simple tips that will make your 808 hit hard in the mix.
Tip number one is to EQ around the 808.
Now, if you’re struggling to make the 808 cut through your mix, instead of adding things to the 808—boosting EQ, adding distortion, compression, whatever—to try to make it cut, look at other tracks in your mix and try to ask yourself—is there something that I can take away from these other tracks to make more room for the 808 so I can hear it more clearly?
So a great example of this would be cutting the low end on some of the other tracks in your mix that have frequency content that’s competing with the 808. Something like a kick, for example. Maybe a synth, even vocals. If you can clear up the low end of the frequency spectrum, so that there’s more room for the 808 to live down there, you’re gonna hear it more clearly.
So next, I want to jump into my DAW and show you exactly how I pulled this technique off in a recent mix.
Okay, so we’re here in Pro Tools and I have a track called “You Haven’t Done Nothin” by MBowie and the Blast, and I want to show you how I created clarity for the 808 in this mix by EQ’ing around it. So let’s take a listen to the full mix first.
So you can see the 808 track is right here. And it only plays every four bars or so, so it’s more of an accent track in the mix. It doesn’t provide the rhythmic foundation like the 808 in a lot of other tracks does. And this really informed the approach that I took when it comes to creating clarity for this 808 and EQ’ing around it. So because it plays such a sparse role in this mix, I didn’t want to make too many compromises when it came to cutting the low end on other tracks to make room for the 808.
So a great example here is this kick. So you can see, we actually have two kick tracks. So what I did, was I duplicated the kick track, and I dragged over just the hits where the 808 and the kick play at the same time. So now, I have one kick track that has all the hits that are between the 808’s, and then one kick track that has just the kicks that hit at the same time as the 808, and that way, I can actually approach these two tracks differently.
So I’ve used virtually identical processing, but the only significant difference between these two kick tracks is that whenever the kick and 808 play at the same time, I have this high-pass filter that just kicks in at 45 Hz. Basically, it’s just cutting some of the low end out of the kick and letting the 808 take that low end of the frequency spectrum and really dominate just at that specific moment. But then, when the 808 isn’t playing, we can have the full range of the kick. So this way, we get the best of both worlds, right? We get the fullness of the kick when the 808 isn’t playing, and then when it is, we can just get it out of the way, so that there’s clarity for the 808 at the bottom of the frequency spectrum.
Now, if this 808 track was more prominent, if it played more consistently, I might consider cutting out the low end on the entire kick track to make room for the 808, but in this case, because, again, it was so sparse, I found that by duplicating the track, and just making that cut when the 808 was playing, that gave me more transparent results.
Now, the kick isn’t the only track that I cut the low end on, and there were a lot of other tracks in this mix that really benefited from some clean-up. So you can see here, this bass track here, I’ve cut at 180 Hz. And again, same concept. So I’m trying to define the bottom end for the 808 and the kick, and I want to make sure I get some of this other stuff out of the way, so the way that I’m going about this is I’m listening to all of these tracks together, and trying to figure out where the muddiness is, and trying to eliminate it by using these high-pass filters and that way, we give the 808 the priority in the bottom of the frequency spectrum and make room for it.
So I want to go ahead and play this here. First, let’s take a listen to this 808 and bass without the cut and then I’ll kick it in and you can hear the difference.
So you can hear there’s a lot of low end on the bass, and as well as the 808. So, now listen to it with the cut engaged.
So now we have this bass track kind of taking up the upper end of the frequency spectrum, and the 808 is sitting in the subs, so we’ve defined two separate spots for these tracks to live, and this is the key to making the 808 work. You gotta carve around it. So instead of adding low end to the 808 and trying to make it cut through that way, look at what you can take away from other tracks to make that work.
Now, if you’re having some trouble hearing the bottom end of the frequency spectrum, there’s a trick that I like to use that makes it a little bit easier, which is to add an EQ to the mix bus and I have a preset saved on this EQ called subs only, and it’s a low-pass filter at 170 Hz. So, with this engaged, I can basically just zero in. It’s almost like soloing the low end in my mix. And if I’m really trying to figure out how to create clarity between the kick and the bass and really want to zero in on that area of the frequency spectrum, I find that using this preset and, just for a second, ignoring the other parts of the frequency spectrum and just zeroing in on the low end, can actually make it a little bit easier to make these decisions.
So I recommend, if you’re struggling to make these types of decisions, especially between the kick and the bass, or 808 and your mix, try using the subs only preset. Around 170 Hz usually works pretty well.
Tip number two is to start with the right 808 sample.
Now, if you’re working with a crappy 808 sound, doesn’t matter how much you do to it, it’s usually always going to sound not that great. So, you want to make sure that you start with the right ingredients. Getting the right 808 sample is 80 or 90% of the battle, and oftentimes if you start with a great 808 sound, you really don’t have to do that much to make it sound great in the mix.
So if you’re wondering where to get good 808 samples, I actually put together a ZIP file with a couple of my favorite 808 samples. These are from my personal drum sample library and I’ve used them on a ton of mixes. They sound absolutely great. So if you want to download these, it’s completely free. Just click the link in the description below, or up there on the video, and you’ll get instant access right now.
Tip number three is to use distortion.
Now one of the most challenging things about mixing 808’s is that they’re often exclusively low-end instruments, so they really don’t have a lot of frequency content above the low end and this can make it hard to hear them, especially on smaller speakers that don’t really have any low end at all. So if you’re struggling to make the 808 cut through your mix especially if you’re listening on laptop speakers or iPhone earbuds, you can add a little bit of distortion to the 808 and what this does is it creates harmonics that extend up the frequency spectrum. And it can give the 808 more clarity, especially on smaller speakers.
Tip number four is to consider length.
Now, the length of an 808, or how long it rings out in the track, is incredibly important and something that’s commonly overlooked. Most people just throw 808’s in their track and they don’t really pay any attention to how long they ring out or how quickly they decay.
Now, time and time again, I’ve seen that this is one of the big things that separates amateur producers from pros when it comes to using 808’s. So the best producers know how to time the 808’s so they get out of the way when they’re not needed any more. And if you do this properly, you’re gonna create a lot more clarity in the low end of your mixes.
So I want to jump back into my DAW and show you exactly how I use timing to clean up the 808 in this mix.
Okay, so we’re back in Pro Tools. I have the same song here, and I want to take a closer look at the relationship between the 808 and the kick in this mix.
So, if you remember, we have these two kick tracks here. Same sound, just processed a little bit differently, and then we have the 808 track down here. Now, if you noticed, I actually chopped this 808 sample off a little bit short. so if we drag this out, you’ll see that in the original track that was sent to me, the 808 actually decayed a lot more slowly, so it rang out over this kick hit. So I’ve gone through the 808 track, and if we zoom out, whenever the 808 runs into a kick, I’ve chopped it off so the 808 ends right before that kick hits. So I want to take a closer listen to that and see if we can figure out what that might be doing, in terms of clarity for the low end of this mix.
So let’s play, first, my edited version and then we’ll flip over to the original. So this is my edited version with the 808 cut short.
And now let’s listen to the original.
So, to me, it feels like the low end has a lot more clarity when that 808 is cut off right before that kick hits, so the way that I kinda think about it, is that we’re almost creating a handoff between these two tracks. So when the kick isn’t there, the 808 assumes the low end, and then when we want that kick to take its place, the 808 kind of gets out of the way and gives it room to be heard. And so, rather than having these two tracks kind of run into each other and combine in a big mushy, muddy mess, we’ve created this smooth handoff between these two tracks.
So, the takeaway here is that length is incredibly important when it comes to 808’s. And you really want to pay attention to the length of the 808’s in your track and make sure that your 808 isn’t hanging over other elements of your mix, specifically the kick drum, and if you can create these handoffs, where there’s this smooth transition between the 808 and the kick in the mix, oftentimes, that’s just gonna lead to a clearer, cleaner sounding low end.
Tip number five is to tweak the transients.
Now, the transient on an 808 is that initial punch or impact right on the front end of the hit. And if you have an 808 sample that has a very sharply defined transient, it has a lot of punch and impact, it’s important that you consider how that’s working with the rest of the tracks in your mix. So if you’re combining, for example, an 808 with a kick, and you also have a very sharply defined transient on the kick, oftentimes those two things are gonna compete with each other. So usually a better approach is to have one track take the initial impact and have a very sharply defined transient, and have the other track handle the decay.
So if you have a kick that has a very sharply defined front end, it has a lot of transient, then you can actually remove some of that information from the 808. You can use fast attack compression, for example, to shave some of the transient off, and that way it’s actually gonna fit together with the kick. So the kick will play, we’ll hear that punch on the front end of the kick, and then the 808 will take the decay and the sustain. So if you can consider how the transient is working with the rest of the tracks in your mix, this is just gonna create a clearer, cleaner 808 sound in your tracks.
Now if you want to make sure you have the best 808 sounds for your tracks, again, I put together that free ZIP file with a couple of 808 samples from my personal drum library. You can click the link in the description below or up there on the video to download these samples for free right now.
Now before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know—what’s the name of a track that has an 808 sound that you love? I’m always looking for new music to listen to, so I’d love to hear from ya.
Thanks so much for watching. You can check out more mixing tips on my YouTube channel right here or on my website, BehindTheSpeakers.com. Take care.
Video features music by MBowie and the Blast.