How To Mix 808s That Bang!

How to Mix 808s That Bang

The 808 kick drum sample is one of the most fundamental elements of modern hip hop. They pack a powerful punch with tons of low-end and plenty of sustain. When mixed properly, 808s can make your song feel big and powerful. 

But when mixed poorly, 808s can sound weak and thin, making your track sound lame. Or they can sound boomy and muddy, making it difficult to hear the vocals.

A great-sounding 808 is what separates the amateurs from the GOATs in hip hop. That’s why we put together this simple step-by-step guide to mixing 808s that bang. 

Choose the Right Sample

Choose the right sample

Before you apply any signal processing, the most important part of mixing great-sounding 808s is starting with the right sample.

The Roland TR-808 drum machine is one of the most sampled instruments of all time. There are literally thousands of samples to choose from. Find one that sounds good in your mix.

That doesn’t mean it has to be a custom or signature series sample. And you don’t have to hunt down sample of a vintage 808 module recorded through high-quality analog components. 

Although it was incredibly innovative at the time, the original 808 drum machine was actually a rather primitive device. The fabled 808 kick drum sound is little more than a sine wave run through ADSR envelopes, which can be recreated on just about any synthesizer. 

Sometimes a simple, unprocessed 808 sample works best because you can mold it and shape it into whatever you want.

Tune the 808 to the Key of Your Song

Tune the 808 to the Key of Your Song

Since an 808 is just a sine wave, it has a root frequency, which means it can be tuned. After selecting your sample, tune the sample to suit the key of your song. 

Ideally, you can tune it to the root note of the key, although that isn’t always possible. Alternatively, try to tune the 808 sample to a fifth (seven semitones) above the fundamental note of the key. 

Either way, just make sure it harmonizes with the other instruments in the track.

Tweak the Timing

Tweak The Timing

After locking in the proper tuning, make sure the timing of your 808 is just as tight. The length of an 808 sample has a huge impact on the production. If a sample fades out too early or doesn’t fade out fast enough, it can make the song feel unbalanced. Almost like it’s stumbling along.

Adjust your clips to make sure the 808 stops on the right beat. Some 808s should be short and others should be longer. Some should end on a downbeat while others end on the backbeat. It all depends on the song.

Make It Loud!

Make the 808s loud

One of the best ways to make your 808s bang is also one of the easiest. 

Just make it loud in the context of the mix. 

Especially in hip hop, kick drums like the 808 tend to be the loudest instrument in a mix. Instead of dressing up an 808 with half-a-dozen signal processors, just try making it louder than the other instruments. 

Start with all your faders down. Bring up the 808 so it’s at a reasonable level in your DAW (probably somewhere around -18 dBFS). Then, bring in all of the other instruments around it. 

That way, instead of trying to smash an 808 into an existing mix, you can make it a focal point from the very start.

Layer Multiple Samples

Layering 808 samples

808s are all about big, sustained bass. For a punchier, tighter sound, try pairing your 808 with addition kick drum samples for added attack. 

The high-end snap of a kick drum will allow your ear to identify the low-end, helping it cut through the mix. Try to find a punchy sample with lots of attack that compliments your 808. Avoid kicks with a big, boomy bottom-end. You may even need to high-pass the kick sample to avoid muddying up the mix. 

Just be careful not to cause any phase issues by introducing the new kick sample. Listen to the 808 and the kick both on their own and together and make sure you don’t lose any low-end when toggling between them. 

Sculpt the Lows Using EQ

Sculpt the 808 Lows Using EQ

Now that you have your samples locked and loaded, it’s time to start applying some signal processing.

Start by making sure the low-end is bumping with a transparent, bass-enhancing EQ like BASSROOM. Boost the lows around the root frequency of the song, typically about 40 Hz or so. 

Then, reach for your favorite parametric EQ and make a gentle cut in the low-mids around 250 Hz to remove any mud. You may also need to make a small narrow cut in the lows to carve out some space for other instruments like the kick and bass.

On a pure 808 sample, there’s not much info in the high-end to work with. But if you’re using a modified sample, you may be able to bring out a little color and character with a high shelf. around 8 kHz.

Add Punch and Sustain Using Compression

Add Punch and Sustain to your 808s Using Compression

Once the tone of your 808 is in check, it’s time to work on the dynamics. 

The tight, punchy sound of an 808 comes from the initial transient. Use a compressor with a fast attack and release time to increase the snap of the sample if needed. You don’t need a ton of compression, just enough to help shape the initial transient. 

Side-chain compression can also be a really effective way to help your 808 cut through the mix—especially when working with additional kick and bass instruments. 

Simply insert a compressor with a key input on the 808 channel. Then, route your kick and/or bass channels to an Aux send. Assign the new Aux send as the key input of the compressor. Then, simply adjust the compressor controls so that every time the kick or bass his, the level of the 808 is quickly brought down. This will help make space for the 808 in the mix and create separation between the instruments.

Multiband compression can be a really useful tool for gluing instruments together in your mix, too. Send the 808, kick and bass to a bus and add a multi-band compressor. Fine-tune the controls to enhance the sustain of the lows while accentuating the snap and attack of the highs.

Add Distortion to Help Your 808 Cut Through the Mix

Add Distortion to Help Your 808 Cut Through the Mix

Last but not least, add a little distortion to help your 808 cut through the mix. Distortion is great for fattening up 808s because it adds harmonic saturation, which helps extend the instrument into higher frequency ranges. 

There are two basic approaches here: either add subtle saturation directly to the track or pulverize it in parallel for a more aggressive, trashy sound. And if you’re feeling particularly gritty, try both! Experiment with different types of distortion like subtle saturation, overdrive, tube distortion and even bit crushing to find what works best for your track.

Multiband distortion processors like are great for enriching 808s, as they can be sued to dial in different styles and amounts of compression based on the frequency range. Plug-ins like ANIMATE are great for this because they use threshold-triggered saturation to create exciting, dynamic 808s.

Follow these simple steps and you’ll be on your way to mixing beats with banging 808s in no-time.