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What Is an 808 Drum Machine and How Do You Use It?

Throughout the history of music, almost all percussion instruments have been operated by people. Instruments like drums, shakers, tambourines, countless other percussive instruments have been common mainstays of percussion in a wide variety of genres, ranging from Jazz to Rock to Hip-Hop. The human element behind a lot of percussion instruments is something that is very well-loved and very commonly used in the world of music. 

Why Use Drum Machines?

The reality is, there are a wide variety of problems with working with human percussionists. People are just never going to have perfect timing. People make mistakes. Even if those mistakes are incredibly small and unnoticeable on their own, they might be much more noticeable in a full mix of a song and can lead to the song feeling unprofessional and imperfect. Metronomes and click tracks often help with that, but the reality of humanity is that people aren’t going to hit perfectly on the track every time. 

It can also be difficult to deal with the amount of sound that a drummer makes. Generally speaking, percussion instruments are some of the loudest and most difficult instruments to record. They generally are composed of a large number of drums that all produce a shockingly large amount of volume, which can make it incredibly inconvenient and hard to get recorded. 

That’s why drum machines exist. While real drummers are technically imperfect and often incredibly loud, drum machines are capable of being exactly on time and can be whatever volume the producer or musicians want them to be while recording. 

While they don’t offer the same sonic flexibility and human element as regular drums, drum machines offer an incredibly convenient solution that is the same every time. Gone are the days of massive amounts of setup and endless preparation; drum machines make it so that all you need to do is plug in and set the tempo right, and then you’re good to go. 

The History of the Roland TR-808

The Roland TR-808 was not the first drum machine to ever be made, but it still is one that is very old and beloved by time. It has an iconic sound that has been used all over the world in all kinds of genres and carries with it a sort of nostalgic, yet constantly fresh feeling. Most drum machines tend to sound very soulless and cold, but the Roland TR-808 has found a specific spot in the music production world where it is incredibly lifelike and warm. 

The sound of the TR-808 transcends genres and has been used on all kinds of songs for decades. It was released at the beginning of the 1980s and has been used in almost every major genre of music ever since then. 

It’s an iconic sound in Pop, Hip-Hop, Electronic Music, and countless other places in the music world. It’s very hard to find a single instrument that can be so versatile and adaptable to so many different styles and preferences, but the TR-808 does that remarkably well. 

Due to the sound of the TR-808 being so venerable, many people have made samples of the drums on the machine, and have found different places for them to be used. Almost every modern DAW has some kind of 808 samples built into their default sounds. 

This puts the iconic sound of the TR-808 into pretty much anyone’s hands and allows them to truly start making music that sounds as rich and nostalgic as anyone who has a genuine hardware unit of the TR-808. 

How Has the 808 Been Used?

For years, the TR-808 was used as a drum machine in the studio. Its warm and rich analog drum sounds have become iconic for their use on all kinds of records, and have become some of the most beloved drum machine sounds in the world. 

There are countless other drum machines in the world, and some can functionally do more things than the TR-808, but no other drum machine has become so synonymous with quality sound on such a large scale. 

A very special feature of the TR-808 was that it could actually have entire songs programmed into it. While most drum machines even to this day can only do one single beat and require manual changes to alter the beat, the TR-808 can program and remember beats throughout the duration of a song. 

This made the TR-808 a very usable and highly functional piece of percussion equipment in both the studio and on stage. Many drum machines since it was released copied this feature, and drum machines that are being used today are still copying this bit of technology. 

Another thing that the TR-808 pioneered through that feature was the creation of patterns that you can pull up at a moment’s notice. This is a feature that can be found everywhere from vintage drum machines to modern DAWs that are programming their drum sounds. It’s a highly important feature that allows musicians to program percussion beats throughout a song and truly has a song that progresses forward. 

One other feature that the TR-808 drum machine has enabled for musicians and producers all over the world is the 808 Bass. This is an incredibly popular and fantastic sounding bass sound that’s used all over electronic and pop music. 

It’s made by taking the incredibly powerful sound of the TR-808’s kick drum and tuning it to work as a bass synth. The 808 bass sound is incredibly versatile, and can often be the first thing that a producer goes to when trying out different bass sounds in their music. If you ever hear a bass sound that’s incredibly deep and subby, there’s a good chance that it was produced using an 808 sample as the main sound source. 

How Can Modern Producers Use 808s?

There are virtually infinite possibilities when it comes to using the sounds of the TR-808. It’s been used incredibly dry as a simple drum machine, it’s been used as a sample-based drum kit, it’s been used as a bass synth, and countless other possibilities. It’s an incredibly versatile and useful source of sounds to use. 

If you’re ever looking for a way to give your song simultaneously an electronic edge, as well as a warm and familiar feel, then look into using the TR-808’s sounds. They are incredibly easy to find and will fit into almost every situation you could need. Even though the TR-808 originally came out over 40 years ago, it’s still wildly popular and useful in the modern world of music. 

How Unison Can Help

Even though the sounds of the TR-808 are wildly popular and highly used in the world, there are still technically countless ways to use them in musical contexts. Unison provides many ways to build songs up around the beats that you make with your 808 samples. The Unison Artist Series packs can help you to truly expand your songwriting potential, and make sounds that are inspirational and truly able to expand your sonic palette. 

The Unison Vocal Series is full of samples that will enable you to expand the way that you produce songs. The vocal samples provide a new way to add a human element to your song, even if you’re using the strictly programmed 808 samples. 

At the end of the day, Unison’s goal is to provide you with the tools you need to make the music that you really want to make. Your best music is right around the corner, and Unison is here to help you get there. Check it out today, and start being the producer that you want to be. 

 

Sources: 

How to Make a Trap Style 808 Bass | Sound Bridge

How the Roland TR-808 revolutionized music | The Verge

What Is An 808 Drum Machine And How Is It Used? | Music Gateway

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