What Is An 808? ( Drum Machine & History )

This guide will answer what is an 808 in music, the history of the drum machine, and how the 808 is used in music production today.

  1. What Is An 808
  2. What Is A Roland 808 Drum Machine
  3. What Is An 808 Used For
  4. Is 808 A Bass Or A Drum
  5. How Do You Use 808s
  6. What Is An 808 In Hip Hop
What Is An 808
What Is An 808

What Is An 808?

The 808 is one of the most popular drum machines. It was created by Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder of the Roland Corporation, in the year 1980. This machine got so much recognition because of its unique dribbling bass drum sound.

The 808 sounds in imitation of many acoustic instruments:

  • Bass drum
  • Snare
  • Toms
  • Rimshot
  • Cowbell
  • Cymbal
  • Hi-hat
What Does 808 Mean in Music? – Source

The TR in TR-808 stands for Transistor Rhythm. The 808 was the first instrument in which an artist could program a track from start to finish. The producers had complete control over music production using the 808, with various audio outputs, volume knobs, and the DIY sync.

Previously in the 1980s, drum machines were mainly being used to accompany the home organs. The users were not able to program the rhythms, but the drum machines provided preset patterns.

When the Roland TR-808 was released, it didn’t sell that well because music producers didn’t like its sound. The thing is that the producer wanted to add drum sounds to their songs like a real drum and not like any synthetic or artificial sound.

The sound of the Roland TR-808 was entirely synthetic, and the producers wanted something that was more realistic.

When the 808 was initially launched, it received mixed reviews because of its unrealistic drum sounds, and it was a commercial failure. But over the course of the 1980s, it started attracting a cult following among underground musicians. Eventually, it was used on many other hit records than any other drum machine.

Its sounds are included in the music software and modern drum machines, inspiring unlicensed recreations.

Related: Free Roland 808 Drum Kit

What Is A Roland 808 Drum Machine?

The Roland TR-808 is a drum machine that creates its sounds using analog synthesis. It is also known as the 808 and was manufactured by Roland Corporation between 1980 and 1983.

The sound it produces has a pure quality closer to the sound of the CR series of Roland drum machines. (as opposed to its successor, the TR-909).

The Roland TR-808 In Action

It is now the signature beatbox used in most R&B, Hip Hop, dance, and techno music. The booming bass kicks, the crispy snares, and the distinctive cowbell sounds are all part of the 808.

It is one of the first drum machines used to program rhythms instead of using preset drum patterns.

What Is An 808 Used For?

808 is one of the most iconic sounds that are there in modern music. It is amazing that a drum sound created in the 80s is still in use today.

You can hear 808s in almost every trap track that exists. It is used in pop music as well as most forms of electronic music.

The ULTIMATE Guide To 808s!

Is 808 A Bass Or A Kick Drum?

The 808 is used to refer to the sound of the bass and kick drum together in the context of Hip Hop music. On the other hand, bass refers to any instrument to fill out the low end.

To be more precise, 808 is more specific than bass as it mainly refers to the synth bass in rap and Hip Hop music.

Ultimate 808 Guide for Dnb Bass Music!! | Beginner to Advanced

Whereas the bass can refer to the double bass, the bass guitar, and the bass synthesizer. (without being called an 808)

It is essential to understand the distinction between an 808 and a bass is that every 808 is a Bass instrument but not every bass instrument is an 808.

The 808 can generally refer to only a few instruments:

  • An 808 plugin: It produces bass and kicks like Initial Audio’s 808 Studio II
  • A bass synthesizer: It is used in conjunction with a kick drum

How Do You Use 808s?

Starting with the right ingredients to achieve better results is crucial. If you want to use the 808, but you choose a bad 808 sample, then it is not very fruitful, and instead, you are actually making your work harder. So instead, start with the proper 808 samples that are clean and punchy.

If your 808 isn’t cutting through then, the reason for it will probably be because something is coming in its way. So it would be better to leave 808 alone and try to shape the other tracks and make them fit around it.

8 Tricks For Perfect 808s!

For instance, if the 808 dominates the sub-range of the spectrum of frequency, you are not required to add a lot of sub from anything else.

You can remove excess low-end tracks that don’t need it. You should give the 808 some room to breathe.

Note that 808 almost are made of completely low-end frequencies. It is because of that reason only that it makes it tricky to mix.

You might hear them on big speakers, but they can disappear on the small ones (that can’t play sub-frequencies).

To make 808s cut on laptops, earbuds, or iPhones, you will have to add distortion. When you add distortion to an 808, it will create harmonics that will extend up the frequency spectrum. The small speakers will be able to play these back, which will help make the 808 cuts.

It is important to note that, often, the 808 can ring out too long, which can lead them to trample over the groove of a track.

So make sure that your 808s are cut off before the next downbeat or kick.

To make the 808s and the kicks fit together, it is crucial to tweak the transients. If let’s suppose that your kick has a sharp transient. In that case, you don’t need one on the 808 too. Getting rid of the transient on the 808, the two tracks get out of each other’s way.

What Is An 808 In Hip Hop?

In Hip Hop, if you hear the term 808, it is referring to the Roland TR-808 drum machine.

Throughout the 1980s, since the 808 was affordable, easy to use, and made distinctive sounds, specifically its deep booming bass drum, it attracted a cult following among the underground musicians.

History of 808s | Old School vs New School

It became a cornerstone of emerging genres like electronic, Hip Hop, and dance. It was popularized by early hits such as the ‘Sexual Healing’ by Marvin Gaye and the ‘Planet Rock’ by the Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force.

More hit records then eventually started using the 808 more than any other drum machine. Its specific popularity in Hip Hop has made it one of the most influential inventions in popular music. It can be compared to the Fender Stratocaster’s impact on rock.

Summary of 808s

The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer is commonly known as the 808 drum machine. Users were able to program rhythms for the first time on this drum machine. This drum machine mimics the sounds of acoustic percussion, and Roland manufactured it between 1980 and 1983.

The TR 808 drum machine, a vintage drum machine, has left an indelible impact. The TR 808, laden with distinctive sounds, has been a steadfast companion for many a hip-hop culture enthusiast and has been pivotal in shaping the sound of music.

Its kick drum, resembling real percussion when tuned properly, and the synth bass, coupled with sub-bass frequencies, have resulted in a powerful bass drum sound sought after by many.

The rhythm machine, released by Roland, quickly found its place in popular music. With numerous audio outputs, the TR 808 drum machine allowed for the creation of own patterns, elevating the kick hits to create a punchy sound.

Whether it was the static noise or the hi-hats, every sound from this piece of Roland gear began to shake the club walls, underlining its mainstream success.

Popular songs like “Planet Rock” and “Wanna Dance” owe their energetic vibes to this machine.

The harmonic progression in these hit records is a testament to the good sample and sound design achievable with this equipment. In fact, an entire album could be created using this versatile machine, making it a staple in hip-hop production and popular sounds in pop music.

The world began to appreciate the TR 808 more as underground producers in genres like acid house and other electronic instruments-based music discovered its potential. The sub-bass, accentuated by a hi-pass filter, along with the other instruments, has a way of making everything sound great. The TR 808, in a musical context, was more than just a drum machine. It was a symbol of a time when the sound of modern production was being defined.

Indeed, the TR 808 drum machine is not just a relic of the past; its influence continues to resonate in today’s music.

Its unique, powerful sound continues to be a key part of numerous iconic songs, making it a highly sought-after sound in the realm of music production.

Whether you’re a fan of vintage drum samples or just someone who appreciates good music, the TR 808 is a testament to how far electronic music has come and how it continues to evolve and shape the sound of popular and dance music genres.

The legacy of the TR 808 is a testament to the power of innovation and the enduring appeal of a well-crafted sound.

I hope you now have a good understanding of what 808s are, and how they are used in music.

Mark V.

Written By Mark V.

Mark Valenzuela is a professional blogger, entrepreneur, and educator with more than 15 years of experience in music production. In 2008, Mark founded Hip Hop Makers, a top resource for aspiring music producers and beatmakers. He specializes in content on music production, software, gear, and free music resources. Committed to empowering creators of all levels, Mark continues to inspire and help music creators pursue their dreams.

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