Everyone, it seems, loves an 808. Technically called the Roland TR-808, the legendary drum machine is name-checked everywhere from the obvious (Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak) to the less apparent (Americana group the Felice Brothers’ song, “Back in the Dancehalls”).
And the 808, as well as many other drum machine models that have come out since its debut in 1980, can be a great help to home studio owners that need a drum machine because they don’t have access to (or space to record) a drum set. Make no mistake, the Roland drum machines were never designed to sound like real drums – drum machines using samples later took care of that – but that’s part of the reason why they’re so distinct and sought after in recordings.
And fortunately, many drum machine simulators in today’s DAW software have sounds that accurately replicate the 808, its successor the 909 and other similar sounds. In fact, since it’s more likely that these simulators are what most home recording engineers will be using, this is what we’ll focus on today.
Sometimes these machines can lack the punch that you need in a recording, particularly concerning the kick drum. Here are a few tips we’ve gathered that can add a little more punch to your drum machine kick. Remember, experimentation is key here, and your best sound will likely involve some combination of the advice below.
Lower the Pitch
If you need some more bass frequencies, one way to do so is simply to lower the pitch of the kick, which will inherently provide more of a low end. Just be careful that you’re not adding low end for low end’s sake, and instead of adding more punch you are simply making your mix sound muddy.
Though this seems to go against the advice of the last point of keeping your mix clear, you may want to add a slight bit of distortion. This is because our ears hear midrange frequencies – where distortion lives – as louder than low range frequencies. But this allows you to make your kick seem louder without actually increasing the volume, therefore giving you more punch.
The way you get that distortion can also determine the final sound. While you can certainly just add a bit of distortion in your DAW (remember, subtlety is key), you also may want to run your track to a slightly overdriven amp for something completely different. Another similar tactic is to run the kick slightly into the red in your mix, but remember that this digital distortion will be much different than analog overdrive.
Add Another Kick
If the program you are using has other punchier drum samples, you can also use these to blend in with the drum machine sounds just enough to give it that extra bump. There obviously are tons of options to choose from for this, so the choice is made by whatever sounds best for your song.
Hat tip to TheProAudioFiles.com for the inspiration for this article