How to Mix 808


When mixing an 808, keep in mind what frequencies are included – you’ll mainly notice the fundamental somewhere around 40-100Hz, which can be attenuated on competing instruments. Additionally, we can use saturation, equalization, and upward compression to make the 808 more impressive, impactful, and to help it cut through.

The Layers of an 808

Before we look at mixing our 808 with other instruments, I think it’s important to understand what makes up an 808 – this way we know the frequencies it occupies, and how different elements affect its sound.

An 808 is made up of a kick sample, mixed with a processed sine, saw, or triangle wave – both of which are then collectively processed with harmonics and subharmonics to fill out the sound.  These layers can then be processed with compression, distortion, and clipping, depending on the desired sound.

In the next few chapters, we’ll make an 808, layer by layer, to show how they work together.  The process will be antiquated for sure since there are better ways to do this now, but it’ll show every step a bit clearer.  Let’s listen to what that will sound like when finished.

Start with a Kick Sample

When making an 808, we want to start with a kick sample – this kick sample should have some of the elements we want like punchiness, or maybe a quick and sharp transient, but this can be processed as well.  With automation, I’ll affect the ADSR of the kick sample.

I could make it smoother by fading the sample in, or keep the transient, and have the sample fall off sharply – it’s really up to what you’re trying to create.

Let’s listen to our kick sample, and alter the ADSR with automation to understand how it changes the sound.

Layering Sine, Saw, or Triangle Wave

Next, I’m going to use a test oscillator to create a waveform – I’ll use a sine wave and set it to 55Hz since this is an A1 note.  Setting this frequency to an actual note is important later on when we use frequency tracking to create various notes.

After bouncing a section of the sine wave, I’ll import it into the session, and again, use automation to change its ADSR.  This layer is usually responsible for the sustain of the 808, so let’s keep that in mind when we shape it. 

Additionally, I’ll add some distortion to my sine wave to give it a more distinct tone.

Let’s listen to our kick and this sine wave combined, and notice we’re getting closer to the sound of an 808.

Introducing Harmonics and a Subharmonic

Next, we want to collectively process the kick sample and our sine wave – so I’ll change their outputs to a bus on which I’ll use MaxxBass and LoAir to generate both harmonics and a subharmonic.  The harmonics help listeners hear it on smaller speakers, and the sub makes it impressive.

Let’s take a listen, first without these 2 processors, and then with them enabled.

Compression, Distortion, and Clipping on 808

Lastly, we can use compression and distortion in parallel to amplify quieter details of the signal, as well as some saturation to give it character – since it’s in parallel I’ll use the fader to adjust how much is included.  Additionally, we can introduce clipping, which I’ll add to the output.

If you want, you can also add an EQ to the output, to isolate the lows, or maybe just reshape the overall sound.

Let’s listen to each layer being added in one by one, starting with just the kick, and ending with the finished sound.

Creating Room for 808 with EQ

Now that we’ve made an 808 and understand just about all the factors that go into that, let’s consider how to mix it in with other instruments.  For example, let’s say we have an 808 and a bass synth that is overlapping, and we want the 808 to cut through.

First, we’ll look at the Hz. response of the 808 and observe the fundamentals or lowest notes – then we’ll attenuate these frequencies on the bass synth by a few dB.

Ideally, the composer of the track would have put the synth up an octave, but if it’s clashing with the 808, this is a good solution.  Let’s take a listen.

Adding Clarity to 808 with EQ then Exciter

If we want our 808 to play a more prominent role in the mix, we can use an EQ to amplify the high frequencies with a bell in the high mids and then use a high shelf.  Let’s follow this with an exciter or high-frequency saturator.

I’ll use a frequency-specific saturation plugin, and isolate the effect to the high frequencies.  Let’s take a listen and notice how the 808 cuts through more.

Maximizing an 808’s Detail

Upward compression or maximization are great effects to use on an 808 – I’ll use the Waves MV2 and increase the low-level slider to compress and amplify quieter parts of the signal.  We can also use the Sonnox Oxford inflator, or any compressor that lets us maximize the signal.

Let’s listen to the MV2 used for this first, and then switch over to the Inflator to compare.

Can I use Reverb on an 808

Reverb on an 808 is usually considered a mistake, but if used sparingly it can work well at filling out the sound.  I’ll use a frequency-specific reverb and utilize very short settings – then I’ll isolate the reflections to the low frequencies, with mild modulation, and blend in the effect.

I can understand why people avoid this, but let’s take a listen and notice how it creates a fuller low end.

How to Keep my 808 Focused

808s are typically best when kept focused – by this I mean the majority of the signal is kept to the mid image, with only a small portion allocated to the side image.  If the 808 has too much signal on the side, we can use a Mid-side EQ.

I’ll create a high-pass filter and place it on the side image, which means everything below the cut will be made mono. 

So if you’re using an 808 someone else created and it’s too wide or unfocused, try this with a mid-side EQ.

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