Are you trying to learn music production and frustrated with YouTube tutorials from the producer bros who drop more 🔥🔥🔥 emojis than actual knowledge?
This article will walk you through the very basics of what an 808 is then show you the sound design process that will help you create absolutely wild 808 sounds that you need for trap music production or other bass driven genres that pairs well with our Ableton drum racks.
You won't need to know any music theory and the process translates to most common DAWs like FL Studio or Logic Pro.
But for making a killer 808, Ableton Live is one of the better tools available.
The Roland TR 808 Rhythm Composer was an early 80's drum machine that was a commercial failure. Many people didn't like the synthesized drum sounds and wanted a drum machine that used samples of real drums, so it was discontinued in 1983.
Not one wanted them, so it became very cheap to buy the drum machine used and in certain emerging underground music circles, especially hip hop, producers started experimenting to see what it could do.
In modern times, "808" is usually slang for the bass drum sound the original drum machine could make.
The bass sound it makes is powerful and mixes well with acoustic drum sounds so that alone opens up some interesting sound design opportunities.
The key point here is the original 808 bass is just a sine wave tuned very low.
You can tune it, control the decay time, and shape the glide between notes.
All those crazy 808s you hear in commercial music production start from a very, very simple sine wave source.
It doesn't matter if you use digital or analog synthesis.
Most of the sauce is all effects and processing of the basic 808 sound, as well as layering techniques where the 808 also triggers a kick sample in parallel.
Since an 808 starts as just a simple sine wave, we can put any of the stock synths in Ableton Live can get us started.
Open a new instance of Operator. One oscillator should be on by default, set to a sine wave.
Make it monophonic. Enable 1 voice.
Turn the Pitch envelope on. Set the Decay time of the envelope to 50-80ms to mimic the pitch drift of the original hardware.
Glide (optional) should be 50-80ms.
Have any synth in software or hardware that can output a sine wave, control volume with an envelope, and adjust pitch?
You can use that beast to make some cool 808 sounds with some small tweaks to things like attack and release times.
If you wanted a basic 808 sample for your projects, you might be able to stop here. Tons of hip hop uses this sound as is.
But at this point the 808 is all low end. It doesn't have the growl and punch that makes it exciting and powerful.
Next, we're going to juice it up.
(If you're producing trap music, this almost is essential)
You can use any distortion effect you want.
They all will add more overtones to the frequency spectrum which is the goal. Try the Ableton Pedal Plugin set to 36% gain with the Sub button On.
Then try each of the distortion modes, OD, Distort, and Fuzz. They all have different sounds, but we like the Fuzz mode.
Let's make the distorted 808 hit even harder by mixing in a kick sample from an acoustic drum kit or any sample pack you have available.
Put Operator and Pedal into a group and navigate to the chain section.
Create an instance of Sampler.
Set the Scale parameter to 0% since we don't want the pitch of our sample to change.
You may have to lower the volume of the Operator chain to hear the acoustic kick sound.
At this point you may also want to change the Attack time of Operator to around 5 seconds so the 808 fades in as the sample is fading out.
This tends to make mixing beats easier because the sampled drum and synthesized 808 aren't fighting for space in the low end.
There are a bunch of ways to do this.
We'll give you the simple one first, then the more complex processing method the mastering engineer will appreciate.
Add a slow chorus effect and mix in to taste with the Wet/Dry knob.
Create an effects rack with two chains.
One chain should be Multiband Compression with the highs and mids soloed, the other should be only lows below about 120Hz.
Then add a Chorus, a touch of short Reverb, and Saturator only on the High and Midrange chain you just created.
Want to go wider? Add a Delay on your high/mid chain. Set one side to 1ms, the other side to 10ms, feedback to zero, and Dry/Wet control to 100%.
This might seem like a lot but in many rap, trap, and bass music productions you need to be able to split low and mid frequencies.
This should be enough to get you started making gnarly 808s.
But you could easily write a short book on all the other possibilities.
Here are some ideas to explore:
-Adding more oscillators to Operator.
-Substitute 3rd party VSTs for the stock Ableton Live plugins.
-Swap out different kick samples.
-Try to recreate this with a different synth like Analog and listen to how it changes the output.