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.

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 the 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 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 if 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 the low-end frequencies. It is because of that reason only which 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, 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 than any other drum machines. 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.

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

Mark V. at Hip Hop Makers

Written By Mark V.

Hip Hop Makers is a music production website that launched in 2008 to teach music lovers how to make music, sell beats, and make money from music.

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