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November 5, 2020

Rich Keller controlling 808s




When it comes to mixing, context is everything. That message comes through loud and clear in this excerpt from “Rich Keller - Mixing Hip Hop 808s.” When we pick up the action, Keller is about to hit play to demonstrate the compression he put on an 808 kick. He’s layering the 808 underneath the primary kick, which is from a drum loop in a ‘90s-style hip-hop beat from producer Angel Aguilar.

What Lies Beneath

He starts playback and compares the 808 sound with and without compression. Surprisingly, the effect of the processing is to make the 808 quieter and less punchy. But even though it doesn’t sound as good when soloed, Rich says it’s working better for the mix as a whole, which is more important than any individual track.

“No sound is an island,” he says, “they all go together, and they have to work together.”

Working in Logic Pro X, Rich compresses the 808 kick using the Studio VCA mode of the Compressor plug-in.

Rich points out that it’s not productive to solo the individual tracks in a mix and try to get the best possible sound for each on its own. They may sound good alone, but by tweaking them out of context, you’re not making them work together, which is the whole goal. It’s much better to make adjustments with all the tracks on. You can solo them briefly to hear something more clearly, but always check your changes with all the tracks back in.

He then explains how he squashed the 808 kick down using Logic’s multifaceted Compressor plug-in in the Studio VCA mode. He got about a 4dB gain reduction on the kick, which is what he typically shoots for in this situation. He achieved that with a ratio between 3:1 and 5:1, with a medium-fast attack of 50ms.

He shows his method for setting the compressor, which is to play the sound and move the Threshold until the sound changes to his liking, and he gets his -4dB of attenuation. The result of the compression was to bring up the end of the sound while squashing down its attack. Rich says it sounds more even and it will match up better with the song’s bass line, which consists of long-sustaining notes and a simple, sine-wave-like sound.

Before he processed it, the 808 kick was so punchy that it interfered with the primary kick sound. Now he’s made it more complimentary to the mix, and it’s not getting in the way of the primary kick.

The Shape of Things

Besides compression, there are other processing tools you can use to adjust the volume envelope of a sound. Transient shapers, which are dynamics processors of a different type than compressors, are excellent for that. If you watch the full video, you’ll see Rich use one, a UAD Oxford Envolution, on the main drum loop.

UAD Oxford Envolution plug-in is a frequency-dependent transient shaper.

Transient shapers all have adjustable attack and sustain controls. Beyond that, their supplemental controls vary from plug-in to plug-in. In the following examples, we’ll be using the Transient Shaper module in iZotope Neutron 3, which offers many adjustable parameters, and can be split into multiple frequency bands, if needed.

Here’s an example with electric bass. The original bass line is fairly legato with some slides in it.

Now, using Neutron’s Transient Shaper module, we can accentuate some of that smoothness even more. The attack is reduced and the sustain increased.

The setting for the last example, in which the Transient Shaper module in iZotope Neutron 3 was used to reduce attack and add sustain

Here’s the same bass line with the settings essentially reversed, with the attack increased and the sustain decreased.

The Neutron 3 Transient Shaper has an advantage over many of the others on the market, it’s multiband. You can use that to adjust the attack or sustain in specific frequency ranges, which can be useful.

For example, we could bring out more of the upper midrange of the bass by setting up a second band, with the crossover at about 1kHz. By accentuating the attack in that band, it makes the tone brighter, particularly on the higher strings of the bass.

A second band is added at about 1kHz that helps accentuate upper midrange frequencies in the bass.

Power Hit

Transient shapers are also useful on drums. By increasing or decreasing the transient of a drum hit, you can alter the drum sound, making it either tighter or looser sounding.

Here’s a drum passage with no transient processing.

This one has the Neutron 3 Transient Shaper, with the Attack parameter reduced, and the Sustain increased. The result is a very different tone, almost as if the snares were loosened.