How To Use 808s in Conversation, and Actually Know What You're Talking About

Nov 27, 2021


So you've probably talked about 808's many times in conversations. And in the back of your mind, you thought, I'm not really even sure what that is and if I'm even using it right.

Or maybe you've heard it referenced in songs and you're still not sure what in the world are 808's.

This is something that people talk about a lot and they have different definitions in their brains. And so today, I want to clarify what 808's are. And this is important because it was important to me to figure this out. So I thought I'd share it with you.

--- Full Raw Transcription Below ---

My name is Zion and I'm the founder of the Triple Threat Artist online producer course, myself and Josh Doyle, a friend and an amazing producer. We teach a small group of students online about how to become a singer, songwriter, and a producer, a 'triple threat' we call it.

Somebody that can command respect with their music productions and get the sound out of their speakers that they're hearing in their head. If that interests you, come join us. It is a subscription and you can quit anytime. We've got 138 videos to learn from and all kinds of exercises, as well as in great online community.

We also have a few freebies on our website. So check those out. Those are gifts to you.

So what is the 808? Well, first of all, we got to do a quick history lesson. So Roland came out with a drum machine back in 1980, called the TR-808. And the TR-808 was built to make synthetic type sounding drums. And it sounds a lot like this. (Audio playing)

Now you've probably heard that many times before and you weren't really sure what that was from. It sounds kind of cheesy sounds kind of eighties. In fact, it didn't even sell well in the first three years. They only sold a couple thousand units of this and they discontinued it in 1983. But it kind of took on a life of its own.

A lot of producers started using it because they didn't have to hire a drummer and studio space for a full drum set. And they could use these, even though they were synthetic sounding, they could get a drum beat going really quickly. And so the 808 sort of took on a life of its own. But the 808, again, is a drum machine. It's not just a kick drum or a bass.

It's a drum machine with all kinds of sounds. It's got a kick, it's got a snare, it's got claps. And it's got a few other little bells and whistles that high hats are really famous now as well.

At some point, somebody took the kick drum from the 808 and elongated it and started making bass frequencies and pitched it up at different places and actually started tuning that 808 sound. And a lot of sounds were built off of that idea. So oftentimes, in a song when people refer to the 808's in the song, they're usually referring to low frequency sounds that are either kick drums or bass notes, synthetic bass notes, not a bass guitar that are, the primary rhythm in the song, but in the bass frequencies, it's a very generic term.

People often use the phrase 808, completely wrong. I've heard people just talk about the baseline of a song as an 808. I've heard people talk about just a kick drum, just a normal kick drum, as an 808, which is really not true.

But anyway, that's how people call it. So when you hear people start talking about, hey, put those 808's in the song, or let's dance when the 808's hit or whatever, they're just talking about the beat coming in, the kick, the driving sub frequencies.

Now, I want to show you a few examples of 808's and how I would use them and how other producers use them. And let's explore that just a little bit more.

Almost every DAW [Digital Audio Workstation] has a drum set within it that is built around the 808's and it might not be called exactly 808 for licensing reasons. This one happens to be called - this is in Ableton Live. It's called the 808 Core Kit. And again, it sounds like this. (Audio playing).

Sounds very familiar. You put something with that and it can sound decent. I don't know if it sounds great, but it sounds decent.

So there's a vintage guitar from native instruments. I like that electric guitar plug-in a lot. So anyway I've created a little hip hop beat here and let's play around with the 808's.

So first of all, I've got a beat that I'm doing here. Funny thing is the high hats to the 808 are actually almost all hip hop beats, still use the high hats taken from that 808 drum machine. And yet when people talk about 808's, they're never talking about the high hats, even though the high hats are almost used more than the original kick drum from the 808, which is really funny. But just a little fun fact for you. All right.

So we have our beat and then we're going to add the sample in that I found off of Splice. And I've got a couple other, I got some hayes here.

So I want to add in actually other 808's besides the kick that will give some flares, some bass notes. Instead of putting a bass guitar or bass synth, I'm putting these 808's in as the base and I've created them here and it's going to sound like this.

Now I've created those using a tool called Kick. Now Kick is one of my favorite plug-ins for kick drums, but it also is great for tonal kick drums or 808 type drums or 808 type sounds. And that's what I'm using it for right now. So I've got a sound up here, and I've connected it so that it moves around with the notes and I've tuned it to the drums. So now it's playing its own sort of baseline. These would be considered 808's. It's playing its own baseline in conjunction with the kick drum. It's not trying to take away the kick drum that the 808 kick drum in the actual drum set, it's doing its own thing.

So, in this example, I used kicks and 808's working together. The 808's don't have a lot of attack. They're more just sub heavy. And they've got a lot of those bass frequencies, which really stand out nicely. The kick drum has a lot of slap to it, right? It's got a lot of attack. You don't have to do that. You could actually just use 808's and tune the 808's.

In fact, Kanye does that a lot. Do you remember the song Women So Heartless by Kanye or Heartless I think it's called? Instead of having a kick and bass in that song, he just has 808's that are tuned for each time the chord changes, which I think that there's only two chords in the song. It's a really great way to do it.

So let's review. If you're a producer and your artist says, hey, let's drop some 808's in there. Make sure you're on the same page and ask them what they think that means. Because you want to make sure that what they're not saying is, hey, I want to add some 808 claps or 808 snares or 808 hi-hats they're probably talking about 808 kicks or sub frequencies, like I just showed you, but you need to be clear on that.

If you're writing lyrics in the song and you want to drop the word 808 in which a lot of artists do in their lyrics, it doesn't really matter to define it. Just drop it in. It's cool.

If you're a producer working with another producer, you probably know what 808's are and you probably know what each other means when you talk about it.

I strongly suggest checking out the article below about 808's and the history of it. It's really fascinating. And I strongly suggest checking out videos on YouTube about how to tweak 808's, make them stick out more drop them in, the sparsity of 808's and how that makes it sound better.

There's a lot of really great videos on that and I'll put some links below.

Okay. That is your 808 lesson.

If that helps you, will you subscribe to this YouTube channel? I'd really appreciate that and hit the like button.

Thanks guys.

I'll see you next week.



This episode was produced and marketed by the Get Known Service

Stop Looking For a Producer.

I'm willing to bet you have some great recording gear, effects and tools already at your disposal. I can help you learn to make the most of them right away so you can start producing your own music. You are way more capable of this than you might realize. And with a little practice you could move away from trying to find a producer who "gets you" to making great sounding music whenever you have an idea. I've created a whole class with over 120 videos and exercise routines to show you the skills I've learned over the last 15 years. Also, you'll get access to a Facebook community full of people just like you that are learning and growing their skills. And I've made it extremely affordable so you can invest in more equipment or other classes as well.

So, you in?

Learn More

50% Complete

Let's Stay Connected.

If you'd like to join our newsletter, just add your name and email here. We LOVE giving value to other like-minded producers and songwriters, and we will never sell your email address to the evil empires. 💚