808s: How To Make Them Slap Hard 👊

“When I hear them 808 drums, It’s got me singing…”🎵

From Madonna’s “Girls Gone Wild” all the way to Kendrick Lamar’s “A.D.H.D”, 808s are part of popular music culture.

But maybe you’re still not quite sure what this so-called “eight-O-eight” is…

In that case, you’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • What an 808 is
  • The origin story of the 808
  • How modern 808s are made
  • How to design your own 808s in your DAW
  • And of course… how to make them slap hard!

Let’s go! 👇

So… What is an 808? 🤔

In essence, an 808 is an electronic kick drum sample.

But not any kick drum! This one is characterized by a punchy low-end and sub-frequency that is easily tunable.

Not sure what I mean? Let’s listen to a few examples:

As you can hear, an 808 is basically a kick+sub combination, with a relatively long decay.

And you will hear 808s on 99% of modern trap and hip-hop tracks:

Still a GOAT tune…

But 808s come in a million different varieties of tones and flavors. But let’s start with the OG 808 sound.

The Origin Story of The 808

Like many iconic sounds of today, we need to go back a few decades to get the origin story.

The 808 takes its name from the Roland TR-808 drum machine:

Roland TR-808 drum machine
The almighty Roland TR-808

Roland introduced the TR-808 in 1980. It was one of the first drum machines to allow users to program rhythms instead of using predefined patterns.

Although the 808 is synonymous with a bass drum, the TR-808 was a fully equipped drum machine. You had cymbals, snares, congas, and everything in between.

And unlike its competitors at the time, the TR-808 generated sound by analog synthesis instead of triggering samples, giving it a fat, warm sound.

And a fun-fact: the 808 was a commercial failure upon its release!

Critics thought its drums sounded unrealistic, and its production was quickly discontinued. Roland followed it up with the TR-909 (which might be the topic of a future article!):

Roland TR-909 drum machine
The Roland TR-909

However, in the years that followed it quickly gathered a cult following. This was mostly thanks to its louder-than-life bass drum.

It even featured on early records from the likes of Marvin Gaye.

And through the years, it transformed the sound of hip-hop. Today, it is considered one of the most important musical innovations of the last 50 years.

So How Are Modern 808s Made?

Let’s not beat around the bush: today a TR-808 will fetch anywhere from USD 5,000 and upwards.

So how is it that every Soundcloud rapper with 7 followers has an 808 in his tracks?

If you don’t want to fork out a few thousand dollars, you have two options: sampling and sound design.

New to sampling? Check out our latest guides on the A-Z of sampling, as well as 7 creative ways of re-sampling. If you want to get started with sound design, check out our 100 Next-Level Sound Design Tips & Tricks.

808s have been a cornerstone of hip-hop for the last 30 years. This means that millions of 808s have already been created, processed, and re-sampled.

Just search for “808” on Splice and you’ll see what I mean:

Splice Sounds 808 search
But what if I don’t find the right one for me…?

But if you’re a sound design geek, you might want to create your own 808 from scratch.

In the rest of this guide, we’ll explore those two methods, as well as advanced techniques to bring your 808s to the next level!

Method 1: Start With a Sample 👌

Let’s be honest.

There are a million 808 samples floating around on the Internet. So there’s bound to be the one you’re looking for.

By the way, make sure to stick to the end of this guide where I’ll round up the best 808 sample packs out there…

Once you found a sample you like, you will want to tune it. Remember, an 808 is not just a kick drum, but also your sub-bass.

If your sample isn’t labeled with a key, you will need to find it yourself.

To do this in FL Studio, double-click on your sample, then right-click on the waveform:

FL Studio edit in audio editor

Select “Edit in audio editor” to open the sample in Edison. From there, right-click again on the waveform and navigate to “Regions -> Detect Pitch Region”. The pitch of the sample will then be displayed.

Because 808s often have a falling pitch, several keys might be displayed. The key will be the one in the middle (the “body” of your 808):

808 sections in FL Studio Edison
This 808 is in D#

To tune your 808, go back to your sample, and select “Mode” -> “E3 Generic”:

FL Studio tune pitch

Then adjust the Pitch by the number of semi-tones necessary (100 cents = 1 semitone).

In Ableton Live, one solution is to load the Utility plugin “Tuner” onto your sample. When the 808 hits, the key of the sample will be displayed:

Ableton Tuner

Alternatively, you can use free software such as Keyfinder that will detect the key of any sample for you.

Next, you will want to EQ your 808. If there’s any information below 20Hz-30Hz, you can safely filter it out. This will give you some extra headroom in the mastering stage.

Alternatively, your 808 might have too many high frequencies for your track. In this case, you might want to apply a low-pass filter:

If you need a refresher on all things filtering, make sure to check our latest guide on the topic!

You might also want to tweak the ADSR envelope of the sample. A lot of samples will come with very long tails, so you’ll want to shorten the release. You could also shorten the attack if the 808 needs a bit more kick.

Finally, you can completely transform your sample through saturation, distortion, compression, and more. If that’s something you’re interested in, keep reading…

Method 2: Design Your Own 808 😎

Here at EDMProd, we are also big advocates of designing your own sounds.

That’s why we made custom guides on the basics of sound design, designing your own drums, and subtractive synthesis among many more…

To get started, load up your favorite synth. For this guide, I will be using the free synth Vital (on which we’ve done an extensive run-through).

First, load up a sine wave and set your Voices to 0. This will ensure only one note can be played at a time. Also make sure your phase is set to 0 so the waveform triggers from the start each time.

Next, we’re going to move to the ADSR envelope. This is where we are truly going to shape the sound of our 808.

I am going to draw in the following shape:

Vital ADSR envelope for 808

This will give me a thumpy attack and a nice, prolonged decay. This is the sound we have so far:

Not quite an 808 yet, but bear with me.

Our next step will be to use a second envelope to shape the pitch. You’ll often hear 808s drop down in pitch as the sound fades.

To do this, draw the following shape in a second envelope:

Vital short ADSR envelope

Here you can experiment with different decay times. Then, we want to assign this envelope to the pitch of our sound.

To do this, simply drag the envelope over to the “Transpose” level:

Vital Pitch

Adjust the amount to taste. I find that anything around 15% to 25% sounds best. Go any higher and you get laser-like sounds, which is not what we’re going for here:

Here are the settings I went for:

  • ATTACK: 0s
  • HOLD: 0s
  • DECAY: 1.44s
  • SUSTAIN: 55%
  • RELEASE: 0.247s

And this is what I have:

Not bad, but not quite the sound you hear on Kanye West tracks.

For that, we need some further harmonic content…

One Step Further: Adding Distortion, Compression, and More

The key to modern-sounding 808s lies in one word: post-processing.

This is the secret ingredient to making our bass cut through on any device. It’s also what will give it its unique flavor.

In Vital, under the Effects section, I am going to activate the Distortion. I’ve chosen a Soft Clip type of distortion with the following settings:

Vital 808 Distortion

And this is the result:

Now that’s more like it! Here’s another example using the Linear Fold type of distortion:

In this second example, the distortion was quite harsh, so I applied a bit of post-filtering to remove some high-end.

Next up, adding some compression is a great way to make your 808 punch through.

For this, don’t be afraid to go overboard with a few OTTs. Plugins with both upward and downward compression work great on this type of sound.

In my case, I used the built-in Multiband compressor from Vital with the following settings:

Vital 808 Multiband Compression

The result, before and after:

If you’re not familar with OTT, check out Aden’s tutorial here:

One option here could also be to use parallel processing. The idea is to copy your 808 into two separate mixer channels.

You apply an ungodly amount of distortion and/or compression to one of the two channels. You can then dial in precisely the amount of effect you want.

Because 808s are so integral to modern music production, you’ll find a million pieces of advice online. What I’ve done next is gather 4 more extra tips to bring your sound to the next level.

Layer with a kick drum

Sometimes your 808 will have a great tone but doesn’t punch through the mix enough. Layering it with a kick drum is one solution.

However, you’ll want to make sure they don’t occupy the same frequency range at the same time.

To do this, you will have to be surgical with your EQing. Sidechain compression is also an option. This will ensure that the volume of your 808 only comes through after your kick drum.

Root vs. Fifth

If you’ve decided to layer your 808 with a kick drum, they might clash because they are hitting the same notes.

One technique is to have your kick hit the fundamental, and your 808 hit the perfect fifth.

For example, your tune is in F minor. This means your kick would hit a low F, and the 808 would play a C (+ 7 semitones).

Pitching your 808 by a perfect fifth will drastically change its tone, so this may or may not work in the context of your track:

Length of your 808s

As we discussed previously, an 808 is characterized by a long, decaying sound. This means that your 808 could easily overlap with the vocal or other instruments in the track.

To avoid this, you must adjust each note depending on the context.

Maybe you want to leave an 808 playout to fill in a blank space. Or maybe you need to shorten some notes so they don’t overlap with each other.

If you’re working with MIDI, you can simply adjust the length of each note in the piano roll. If you’re using audio, you’ll want to fade out each sample manually.

Layer up an octave

If you’re struggling to hear your 808 on smaller speakers, one option is to layer the upper octave. This is a surefire way to “artificially” add some upper harmonics.

First, create a copy of your 808. Next, transpose the copy up one octave. Remove the attack by automating the volume, and EQ out any frequencies competing with the original sample.

Lastly, you can proceed to some further processing if you want to give the layer a different character:

A Few Sample Packs to Get You Started…

Before I let you go, let’s have a look at some of the best 808 sample packs out there.

808 Drums by Wave Alchemy

808 Drums Sample Pack

If you’re looking to stay true to the original Roland TR-808 sound, this pack is for you. Inside, you’ll find 560 samples recorded directly from the original synth.

All sounds were then processed and layered to give them a modern flavor. You also get a range of other sounds such as claps, toms, and congas.

Buy here (USD 5.89)

Wild Trap III by Production Master

Wild Trap III sample pack

Specifically tailored toward the modern sound, this pack will give you everything you need in terms of 808s and more.

You get a total of 722 samples and loops including 808 loops, one-shots, bumps, and more. You also get a range of other sounds such as vocals and brass to complement your productions.

Buy here (USD 14.19)

808 Vol. 1 by Surge Sounds

image 68

If what you’re looking for is 808s and nothing else, this pack is for you.

Inspired by the likes of Kodak Black and Travis Scott, this pack contains 100 808 one-shots. Each sample is labeled in its key so you won’t have to waste any time.

Buy here (USD 8.40)

Spinnin’ 808 One-Shots by BVKER

Spinnin' 808 One-Shots Pack

The “Spinz 808” is one of the most recognizable 808 in trap music:

Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most overused ones…

This pack provides 20 free alternatives to the Spinz 808. All of them use the Spinz 808 as a basis, but with additional post-processing for each one. Plus, they’ve all been normalized and tuned to C to speed up your process! Oh, did I say it was free?

Download here

808 samples by MusicRadar

As always when you’re looking for free samples, MusicRadar comes to the rescue.

In this massive free pack, you’ll get a stunning 385 samples. Which is more than many paid packs out there…

The pack is divided into 220 one-shots and 165 loops. A must-have for any aspiring hip-hop producer.

Download here

That’s a Wrap!

That’s it for this guide! Now you’ll know what this infamous 808 is all about, and how to make your own! Did I miss out on anything? Let me know at [email protected].

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