Mix 808 and Kick Like a Hip Hop Pro

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Is the boom in your track too muddy? Need some extra thump in the low end? Watch multi-platinum producer/engineer Lu Diaz (Jay Z, Beyoncé, DJ Khaled, Kodak Black, Pitbull) as he breaks down his 3 tips for bringing out the best of the bottom end of your mixes.

In terms of hip hop, if that low end isn't hitting with the right impact... there's gonna be a problem! The kick/sub relationship affects the entire balance and shape of your mix. Check out these 3 tricks for getting that crisp and beautifully boomy low end in your tracks.

1:16 Tip #1: Enhancing 808 Harmonics & Tone

The masses are not listening to your track on expensive, hi-end studio monitors. In most cases, your mix will be heard through a laptop or on a pair of smaller desktop speakers—where definition of the sub frequencies is simply inaudible.

In order to get your 808s heard in any situation, you need to focus on enhancing the upper frequencies so that your 808s thickness can stick out. Even though the 808 is dominant in those sub frequencies, the character of it lies within that mid-range. The trick lies in warming up the upper harmonics. The Vitamin Sonic Enhancer plugin helps in identifying these harmonics in upper mid-range so you can bringing out the true grit of your 808s and get them to stick out in the mix.

To bring out the 808 sub frequencies and give it a nice smooth finish, try using the Puigtec EQP-1A—modeled after the original Pultec EQ unit owned by Jack Joseph Puig. It is renowned for its unique ability to boost and cut the same frequencies simultaneously—which for a long-time has been an industry 'low-end trick'. Its distinct resonant shelf will give your 808s a very musical boost and heat up those sub frequencies for a powerful low end.

4:29 Tip #2: Multiple EQs for the Kick

Why use more than one EQ on the same kick track? Each and every EQ has its own character—adding a certain color to the sound. In many cases, you'll find that just inserting an EQ without cutting or boosting anything will change the sound slightly.

If you have a kick and 808 hitting at the same time in your mix, you want to start by shelving out the kick's sub frequencies in order to avoid interference with the 808. Let the kick be the punch and let the 808 be the boom. The F6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ is a great tool for both surgical equalization/compression and handling the relationship between the kick and 808 via sidechaining. (More on that in Tip #3 below.)

Try boosting the upper frequency ranges of your kick, (6-7 kHz); this will bring out the attack. Even though the kick's energy is strongest in the low end, it still needs a little top-end sheen so that the ear can identify its presence in the mix.

A common mistake people make is turning up the kick's volume in order to make it better heard in the mix—however, you just want to hear it more, not to have it louder. You don't want it louder level-wise because it throws off the whole mix. By brightening up the kick and boosting the top-end frequencies, you can exaggerate that punch and get your kick to stand out in the mix.

The SSL E-Channel is a long-time industry go-to for its 'Black knob', its 242 circuitry, and its unique bell/shelving settings on the high and low bands. Try running your kick through this bad boy for some analog coloration and that classic big-console sound.

The original API 550 EQs dropped back in the late '60s; and they've been crushing it in the studio ever since. They're renowned for their "Proportional Q"—which means that the Q automatically widens at low gains and gets narrower at high gains.

Drive your kick through a 550A or 550B—and try boosting 500 Hz and 5 kHz for a little more punch and grit. You'll get a more forward and aggressive sound; and thats what it means when a certain EQ is said to be "musical".

The more you mix and gain experience using different EQs, the more your ears will begin to recognize the distinct character each EQ has.

6:58 Tip #3: Sidechaining Kick & 808

So you did all of your EQing and processing on your kick. You've got a nice warm, subby 808—and individually they sound amazing. But when you turn em both on in the mix, all of a sudden you've got a hot mess!

You have to think about the kick and 808 in relation to each other. Because they exist in the same part of the frequency spectrum, they can cause clashes in your mix. They have to work together as one unit, and that's where the F6 Floating Band Dynamic EQ comes in as one of the best sidechaining tools for kicks and 808s.

Try using the F6 it to carve out a space for the kick to gel together with the 808—cleaning up the low-end in your mix. Sidechaining will automatically turn down those frequencies in the 808 that clash when the kick hits. In order to make this happen, you need to send the kick signal through the F6 on the 808 channel. Here's how to set this up quickly in Pro Tools:

  • Insert the F6 plugin on the 808 channel.
  • Under the key input drop down menu—select your newly created Bus. For example, Bus 1 (Mono).
  • Make sure the frequency band that you want to carve out is set to 'EXT' under the SC SOURCE. On the F6, in order to get sidechain active, bring down the THRESHOLD control on the F6, (-30 dB is a good starting point).
  • Decrease the RANGE control on the F6 for compression, (-10 dB is a good starting point).
  • On the kick channel, create a new SEND (pre-fade), and assign it to the same Bus under the F6's key input on the 808 channel.
  • Set the SEND fader volume to full:
    -Alt + Click (PC).
    -Option + Click (Mac).
  • Enable the key listen button with the 808 channel solo'ed.
  • Adjust ATTACK and RELEASE parameters on the F6 accordingly.

The sidechain feature on the F6 allows the sub to be compressed in that frequency range you're trying to push your kick into. By doing this, you can get as much of that sub information from the 808 and as much of the kick's punch working together for a clean and powerful low end.

Music: "Feel It Babe" by Realzz. Produced by The Track Burnaz.

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