Mixing 808s could be a little challenging. New and starting producers ask how to mix 808s because one of the hardest things to do when mixing music is finding the perfect balance in the low end. It’s what gives life, the thumb, the feel, and the vibe to your music, so messing it up would make your track lifeless and weird.
808s came from the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, an electronic drum machine from the 1980s, which was very popular in the hip-hop music scene. 808s act as the bass in hip hop music and they should be treated as a musical instrument.
How can you mix 808s?
Generally speaking, when making beats, any bass instruments should usually be 100% mono as that is where they will sit the best. The exception would be if you were to make the upper frequencies of the 808 stereos and then mono everything below ~200hz.
So, the best process for mixing 808s is the following:
Sound selection is the most important part of making any music so select a sample that works well with the composition and try to listen to and find the best 808 that can blend with your track.
Is the 808 in key with the track?
If it sounds off, adjust notes if incorrect before going further. If you always run into the problem of 808s being out of tune in your beats, you can use a harmonic analyzer like G-Tune to visually see what key the 808 and other instruments are playing and tune them accordingly.
Set a general level for the 808 when producing the track. Not too loud, not too quiet. Use your ears for this one.
When gain-staging, set the level of the kick, and then the 808, and then set the levels of everything else in relation to those two elements.
When mixing music, you need reference points. Starting from the kick or 808 , then snares and hi-hats are the most common way.
A good spot is to put kick at -6dB as a starting point with the bass slightly below/above that in relation to the kick. This is just a rule of thumb and a starting point. It should not be considered every time when making beats because each music is different.
Compress the 808 if necessary, keep in mind that most times this does not need to be done as most of them already have been processed! Most latest sound packs are already processed well and you can find such high-quality drum kits here.
If the 808 jumps up and down on the DB meter, you might use a limiter to tame the dynamics.
EQ the 808 to get it to fit with the kick/other low-frequency instruments in the track as a whole. Basically, boost some frequency from the 808/ kick and cut at the same frequency on the kick / 808. And high pass every other instrument below 100hz.
Distort the 808 if necessary – Distortion adds colors to your 808s and makes it audible in small speakers like phones, laptops, and earbuds. Again, don’t overdo it as it will create a weak low end when too much saturation/distortion is applied.
So that’s pretty much all you ever really need to do with an 808. These steps apply on any DAW you are using. Practice makes perfect so keep on making beats and experimenting.