image credit: Brandon Daniel
Ah, the 808. Worshipped in rap and trap music, featured in modern pop hits. To this day, we still love the sound of the 808, even 30 years after its introduction.
But what is it really, and how do you make an 808 beat in Ableton Live?
In this article, we will show you exactly how you can make a simple but powerful beat in Ableton Live while giving a brief introduction to the history of 808.
Are you ready? Awesome. Let's dive in.
Where It All Started: Roland TR-808
image credit: Brandon Daniel
Let's journey back to the good old '80s when the famous Roland Corporation launched its revolutionary drum machine Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. Was it a huge success at launch? Sadly not.
The launch of the TR-808 was kind of a bust, with many reviews stating it had 'overly' processed and unrealistic drum sounds, not fit for commercial use.
But times changed, fast. With more synthesizers coming to market and electronic music becoming more popular, the new futuristic sound started attracting huge followings. People came to love the bombastic sound of the TR-808 drum machine.
The drum machine went on to become the go-to for hip hop producers. So much that the TR-808 became known as one of the most influential inventions in popular music.
And as we're writing this 30 years later, there's no denying its success as it's still, to this day, widely used – with slight variations of its sound.
What is an 808 beat?
When we reference something as being an "808 beat" or "808 bass", we often talk about the Roland TR-808 drum samples and beats made with the analog-style drum machine.
Today, because few have access to the real drum machine, we reference "808" analog drum sounds with similar characteristics.
But first, let's explore the drum machine that started it all.
The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer features a great variety of drum sounds and percussion, and all generated through analog synthesis.
Complete with a 32-pattern step sequencer, you could chain up to 768 measures (or bars), placing accents on individual beats to highlight groove.
The drum machine could also control the tempo and different time signatures, which allows you to make beats in a wide variety of signatures, including uncommon ones like 5/4 and 7/8.
One thing that makes the TR-808 stand out is its powerful bass drum samples. Producers often use the kick drum with long sustain and release times, which results in a bass rumble echoing your ears into a groovy submission.
In fact, with a TR-808 bass drum, a second bassline is seldom needed as you get all the low frequencies you need from the drum machine.
Because of its power, you often let the kick drum take over the lowest frequencies. If you use a bassline, you often place it slightly higher in the frequency spectrum.
To summarize, with fantastic sound, beat-making capabilities, and the ability to program an entire drum track within the machine – the TR-808 revolutionized how we make beat-focused music.
How To Make A 808 Beat In Ableton
Making an 808 beat in Ableton Live is very easy. Because luckily, inside the built-in drum kit, Impulse is a drum kit called "Impulse 808," which sounds strikingly familiar to the original.
Step #1: Go to Instruments in Live's left pane. Then, open Impulse and find Impulse 808.
Step #2: With a new MIDI track selected in your Session View, double click Impulse 808.
Step #3 (optional): Click on Kick-808 in the Drum Rack and increase Stretch and Decay for a longer kick drum tail and more bass.
Step #4: Hit record, stop recording, and go to your Arrangement View. Make an 8-bar loop and draw your Kick-808.
Step #5: Do the same with your snare.
Step #6: Draw in your Closed and Open Hi-Hat.
Step #7: For more groove, use Conga and Rim shots.
And there you have it!
A simple yet powerful 808 beat.
A trap production tip before you go…
Did you know that you can create a professional trap track in Ableton and FL Studio – ONLY using stock VST plugins?
Ableton and FL Studio come packed with synths and instruments that often get overlooked. They are very straightforward to learn and can create any trap sound you desire – including professional, making the huge, bassy 808 kicks.
Listen to this example:
This track was made using ZERO external VST's.
Want to learn how? Check out our Advanced Hard Trap Courses:
Advanced Hard Trap Course
Learn how to create a professional trap track from scratch in Ableton.
FL Studio user? Click here.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.