How 808s Became Mainstream: The Birth Of The 808

As you may know, the 808 sound has been a staple in music production for many years. But it wasn’t always the case.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look deeper into how the 808 became mainstream, why the 808 still matters, and give you some tips on how you can use the 808 in your music productions today.

We have also listed 10 famous songs that all use the classic Roland TR 808 sound.

Let’s get started!

How 808s Became Mainstream

Drum machines have been around since the early 1980s when a new type of electronic instrument called an “808” became popular.

how 808s became mainstream

Roland Corporation, a Japanese company that was founded in 1972, is responsible because they developed both instruments alongside other companies, including Yamaha, who made pianos before branching out into electronics too.

In the beginning, Roland’s main focus was electronic organs.

But as time went on and their success grew in this field, they quickly expanded into other areas, such as synthesizers or even sampling equipment for producers who sought copies of old classics without having to hire extras from elsewhere.

That lead to the design of the TR 808, a cost-effective alternative to studio drummers.

The impact it had on music was immediate and one that quickly spread across genres like wildfire, and many artists credit this machine with the beginning of their careers.

The 808 became prominent On Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” where the drums were programmed on a Roland TR-808 machine, and also on Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock.”

The 808 is still in use today and is an essential part of modern music, mainly because of the way that the 808 rattles the speakers.

Why The 808 Still Matter

The 808 remains very popular in modern music production, with producers and musicians alike incorporating it into their tracks.

But why do producers still use the 808s?

The iconic sounds of the 808 drum are still trendy among producers, and you’ll hear these drums on everything from rap to rock. 

It’s because its sonic properties can adapt quickly across genres, making it a versatile tool for producers or engineers looking for creativity in their work.

The 808 can also create a wide range of sounds other than the iconic kick/bass drum, from claps and snares to hi-hats and percussion. 

So we must say that it’s a sound that has stood the fine test of time and become even more relevant, although music production is constantly evolving.

In an era where technology is constantly changing, the 808 is a reminder that some things just never go out of style.

The next time you hear that famous signature 808 kick, take a good moment to appreciate its impact on music – and popular culture as a whole.

Famous Songs With The Roland TR 808

The list of artists that have used the 808s today is probably endless, as the 808 is implanted in modern music.

We listed 10 famous songs you probably recognize, which all use the famous Roland TR 808:

  1. Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force – Planet Rock
  2. Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing
  3. Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance With Somebody
  4. LL COOL J – Going Back To Cali
  5. Madonna – Girl Gone Wild
  6. Usher – Yeah!
  7. Daft Punk – Doin’ it Right
  8. New Order – Confusion
  9. Nine Inch Nails – Closer
  10. Bassnectar – The 808 Track (feat. Mighty High Coup)

How To Use 808s In Your Music Productions

We covered some of the best 808 VST plugins in another article if you need the inspiration to find some wild sounds.

But here is a few tips on how you can use 808 in your own productions.

Choose A Good Tasty 808 Sound

You must have some nice rich sounds to work with where you don’t have to tweak them too much (unless you like to spend hours with the virtual knobs).

We recommend using the SubLab VST from Future Audio Workshop to get that job done.

Sublab 808

Use EQ

Try to experiment with different effects on the mixer channel of your VST.

First, a good idea will be to cut off some of the deep lows on your kick since its occupying the same frequencies as the 808. Try to cut out below 30Khz.

Otherwise, they will compete for the same space in the frequency range, and you will experience overdrive.

Pro Tip: Find the frequency where your kick is punching, and boost that with a couple of DBs. Go to the 808 EQ and cut down 2-3 DB on that same frequency to make space for the kick.

Use Sidechain

Sidechain the 808 to your kick track. Every time the kicks hit, it’s going to duck down the 808 (tuning down the volume)

Make sure that your 808 is on beat by adjusting the release, and decide how fast you want the 808 to come up from the duck.

You can turn on the metronome in your DAW to ensure that the 808 is now offbeat.

Pitch Your Kick

Another trick you can try is to pitch your kick around two semitones; this is another excellent way to move the kick out of the 808-frequency competition range.

But remember that this will only sometimes work; otherwise, you must use the abovementioned methods.

Use Distortion Or Saturation

Try to add a slight distortion on the 808. This can be useful if you get the sound more thoroughly on a mobile phone or pad.

It can also bring in more character and make the 808 sound fuller.

Our preferred choice is the Decapitator by SoundToys.

Balance out the volume of the saturated track and the original 808 track. To do this, add your saturation VST plugin to a mixer channel and route the 808 to that mixer channel.

Make sure you do the balancing while playing the whole song so that you know how it all sounds together.

Final Thoughts

Many years have passed since the release of the Rolands TR 808 machine, but the 808 sound is more popular than ever before.

You hear it everywhere, from radio to clubs where the hard sound rattles the speakers and make you get up the chair.

The 808 sound has definitely come to stay.

Do you want to get better at implementing the 808 sound in your music?

Try to practice the tips we gave in this article, and if you need inspiration for sounds, check out our top list of 808 VST plugins.

Thanks for reading!

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