Contemporary 808s are considerably a stretch from what the original designer Ikutaro Kakehashi must have envisioned in 1980, when he created the Roland TR-808. The drum machine sounded unlike anything else on the market at the time. Although not an immediate success, its significance has increased over the years, which is mostly attributable to its earth-shaking sub-bass. Since then, 808 basslines have become commonplace in many different genres. Because of its characteristics, this sound is challenging to mix and fit in the mix. In the next tutorial, we will show how to process your 808 bassline to do exactly that.

As usual, we prepared a short sequence in our SoundBridge: DAW. It includes most of the elements of a full mix with a previously made 808 bassline sequence. Let’s listen to that solo and then in the context of the full mix.

This is a screenshot of my mix before applying any processing to the 808 bassline sequence.
~808 Bassline – Solo (Unprocessed)
~Full Mix – 808 Bassline (Unprocessed)

The overall mix sounds good, but the 808 bassline could use some processing to fit in and cut through the mix a little better.

Saturation and compression

We will first use saturation. Adding saturation or distortion to your 808s is a great way to add higher harmonics, allowing them to be heard on smaller speakers. It’s also an excellent method to add more excitement and make an 808 sound distinct. We’ve used a free plugin by Softube called Saturation Knob for this purpose. It’s a straightforward effect that offers three types of saturation. In this instance, we will keep the “Natural” saturation type and increase the effect amount to approximately 60 percent. Let’s hear how our 808 bassline sounds after this.

This is a screenshot of my mix and saturation knob interface applied to the 808 bassline sequence.
~808 Bassline – Solo (Processed With Saturation Knob)

Keep in mind that if your kick drum has a sharp transient, the 808 bassline should not. Since there are not sharp transients on the 808 in our case, the two tracks will stay out of each other’s way. The kick will deliver the initial blow, while the 808 will handle the sustain and body.

The next issue with this 808 bassline is the level of the different notes in the sequence. You’ve probably noticed that the glided section has a significantly higher volume than the rest. A compressor is one of the best tools for controlling volume changes in this case. We’ve used another free plugin called MCompressor for this job. Let’s hear the difference.

This is a screenshot of my mix and MCompressor interface applied to the 808 bassline sequence.
~808 Bassline – Solo (Processed With Mcompressor)

EQ the 808 bassline

An EQ is a final effect that will be applied to our 808 bassline. In this case, the tool of choice is the free EQ plugin called Nova by Tokyo Dawn. Since the kick drum and bassline share the same subfrequency range, between 20 and 50 Hz, it’s important to determine which one will be dominant. We think the kick drum should have the most impact in this case, so we will make a low cut on the 808 in that frequency range. Additionally, as shown in the image below, we have boosted the range from 50 to 200 Hz allowing the bass to be more prominent there. Let’s hear the bassline now.

This is a screenshot of my mix and TDR Nova EQ interface applied to the 808 bassline sequence.
~808 Bassline – Solo (Processed With EQ)

Finally, let’s hear the processed 808 bassline in the context of the full mix.

~Full Mix – 808 Bassline (Processed)

If you liked this article about bassline processing, here is some more on the same subject: