Welcome to Part 2 of our two-part deep dive into trap-style 808 basses. In part one we looked at the origins of the style and some basic ways you can quickly create 808 bass sounds and 808 bass lines in your music.
In part 2 we're going deeper into sculpting the sound, including a look at Thor's advanced sound design capabilities. If you've used Thor but find yourself sticking to presets because you don't understand it, this tutorial should leave you feeling much better about experimenting yourself with signal routing and modulation inside Thor.
Take a listen to Hip Hop, Trap, Pop, EDM, or just about any other genre these days and you'll hear the distinct tones of the "808 Bass" - a term used to describe tuned and pitched sub-bass lines whose origins come from a classic drum machine, not a bass synth. But as standard as the 808 Bass is, the way everyone makes them these days is not quite as standard. That's one reason why 808 Bass sounds and bass lines are something of a mystery for aspiring producers and beat makers.
In part one of a two part series, we take a look at the origins of the 808 Bass and the philosophy that goes into creating custom patches and writing 808 bass lines.
Detroit raised producer/DJ Skylar Tait a.k.a. SKYWLKR woke up on his tour bus one snowy December day in Stockholm, while being on tour with rising hip hop star Danny Brown, and immediately tweeted his favorite music software company with a request to hang out. Naturally we obliged.
SKYWLKR has made a name for himself by producing music for, and touring the world with hip hop artist Danny Brown who recently released the album "Atrocity Exhibition". Besides selling out venues with Danny Brown, SKYWLKR is also a member of the Bruiser Brigade crew, where said Danny Brown also is a member. SKYWLKR came by the Propellerhead office to hang out in our studio and talk about what he loves about Reason and what to do when writer's block hits. You also get to know what his all-time favorite album is.
What's your favorite new Reason 9 feature?
It’s gotta be Scales & Chords! I wasn’t musically trained so sometimes I don’t really know what I’m doing. It’s really cool to being able to form chords by just pressing one button on the keyboard, and at the same time you’re learning too because it shows you what the chord looks like on the keyboard! That’s a cool thing so my new favorite thing in Reason 9 has to be the Players, and especially Scales & Chords.
Do you work with vocals? Do you use the new Pitch Edit in Reason 9?
I haven’t got a chance yet! I am working on this project back home but I have been on tour for so long. I’ve watched the tutorials and I can’t wait to get back home and use it.
How do you get started with a new song? What usually sparks your creativity?
I don’t really have a formula to making beats. Sometimes I’ll just sit there and I’ll be drumming on the table, or I’ll hear a sound or a melody in my head and I’ll put it out on MIDI and then I’ll just go through patches and find a patch I like and tweak it a little bit. So I don’t really have a formula but I’ll just say I get started in my head when I’m not even in front of my computer.
If I come up with a cool melody, I’ll browse presets or sometimes if I’m bored, I’ll do both at the same times: play something on the keyboard and browse patches at the same time. A patch or a sound might give me inspiration. It’s not really one way or the other, it’s really both. Sometimes I have the melody and I need the sound and sometimes it’s the other way around.
What do you do if writer's block hits? Any tips to break out of it?
That’s what I love about ReCycle! I have this folder full of 200 songs that I’ve chopped up in the past. I have so much stuff that’s never been put out so when I’m bored or when I have writer’s block, I’ll go through my pre-chopped samples and just sit there and try to come up with a new way of flipping the sample. Some times I’ll be on the keyboard and I think everything sounds terrible, or everything I’m playing sucks, like I’m garbage. I’ll open up my REX files folder and I’ll just go through it.
I find that an easy way to surpass writer’s block is to just go through my REX files, hit a few keys, seeing if something clicks in my head. I might do little stuff like changing the pitch or reversing it. That usually gets me through writer’s block.
Do you have any special Reason production trick that you always use?
I swear by the tape setting in Scream 4! You could almost put that on every single sound or drum hit. It makes it sound warm, you know? Other than that I like adding things to the master, even an odd thing like Polar pitch shifter, I use that on everything!
The three most used devices in your Reason rack?
Polar, Scream 4, Thor. Thor is my synth of choice! You can just get the most creative with it! Make a whole new sound, make it wobble, make it gate, change the pitch as it goes. You can do a lot of crazy stuff with Malström too! Try loading the Thunder graintable in Malström and make the movement stop at the perfect spot and it sounds like a synth note. I would pick the Thor over the Malström at this point in my life though.
What do you use for drums? NNXT or Kong?
It’s funny, when I started I used to put all my drums in one or two Redrums. The kicks, snare and hats all in the same Redrum. Later I got into opening a new NN19 for every single hit, so all my drums would be on nine different NN19s. I know you can do it with Kong, EQ different hits differently but I’m so used to the NN19 way. Since Reason now has Drag and Drop–a lot of times I’ll just drag the hit right onto the screen and go from there.
I use a lot of sounds from the Kong kits because there’s a lot of cool sounds in there. I use a lot of those hits, but I just don’t like having all my drums on one track. I know you can do each hit on a different track, but in my head it’s easier to use NN19 to use drums.
This is a hard one: what’s your all-time favorite album?
It’s gotta be Oval - 94 Diskont. That’s my chill music! When I’m just chilling, that’s what I like to listen to–minimal and ambient and relaxing. That’s gotta be my favorite. I can’t listen to it when I’m partying, it’s not really a party album but as far as every other situation in life, it’s my go to album.
The age-old adage, “be in the right place at the right time” leaves out the most important third element. “Be ready.” AnonXmous did what he had to do to make sure he put himself in the right place, ready for the right time. But long before that he invested countless hours honing his skills so that when those did converge serendipitously he would also be ready. And now he’s got three Grammy nominations and a Universal publishing deal to show for it.
AnonXmous is the creative mind behind Nicki Minaj’s biggest single to date (Anaconda), as well as records with Chris Brown, Timbaland, Fergie, and work on the best selling Empire soundtrack. To hear him speak of his accomplishments however, he’s just getting started. We sat down to hear his inspiring story and learn some clever techniques he has to stay creative and inspired himself when approaching new writing sessions.
Sidney Miller III, also known as Speakerbomb, is a record producer and musician from Los Angeles, USA. Sidney has worked with artists like Lupe Fiasco and The Knux and has also released albums and toured with his own band Malbec. Recently Sidney worked with rap artist Freddie Gibbs on his critically acclaimed 2015 album "Shadow of a Doubt". We spoke with Sidney about producing in Reason and he also shares his favorite Reason production tricks!
How do you use Reason in your music making? Do you have any examples of where you've used it?
I use it in a variety of ways but the main way that I use it is for starting musical ideas from scratch and if I’m not going to be recording any vocals on the idea yet, I usually finish the entire beat / idea in Reason.
On the Freddie Gibbs’ “Shadow Of A Doubt” album I used it to produce tracks from scratch, to enhance sounds from other existing tracks, to create sound effects and I also used it to put together some vocal ideas. On “Mexico,” I took the existing 808 track that was in the Pro Tools session and ran it through the Scream in Reason. Specifically on “10 Times,” which features Gucci Mane and E-40, I did everything in Reason except for record the verses. I started off with a Gucci Mane a cappella verse, put it on the grid and then built up a whole beat around it. Then I took a catchy piece of Gucci’s verse and chopped it up so that I could repurpose it as a hook, using delays, pitch shifting and stuttering effects.
When you load up a brand new Reason song, what’s the very first thing you do?
I like to be open to all kinds of inspiration, so there isn’t one way that I always start a song, but if I already have an idea in my head, I usually go straight to the ID8 and load up a stock piano or rhodes. I like to write my chords, melody or both with a basic unflattering sound so that I know I have a good foundation start with before reassigning that MIDI to a cooler sound.
What’s the hardest thing about making music, what do you struggle with the most?
I would say that the hardest thing about making music is the ever-growing decline of people paying for music. There used to be so much more money poured into the music industry, but now although music is more popular than ever and more of a part of our daily lives than ever, people spend less money on it than they ever have before.
The hit song button doesn’t exist in any DAW
What's the best music making tip you ever got?
Don’t spend too much time jumping around trying find some program that’s going to automatically make hit songs for you. The hit song button doesn’t exist in any DAW. The best thing you can do is focus on one or two programs and master them inside and out so that you can become an expert.
Do you have any special Reason production trick that you always use?
One of the biggest tricks that I use all the time is reassigning MIDI. Once have a MIDI clip that I feel works, I love reassigning it to different instruments and patches to see what other colors or textures that I can add to the part. You never know what you are gonna get when you go reassigning MIDI and the magic that comes from doing often is what makes a track special.
One of my other favorite trick would be the “body” section of the Scream distortion unit. I was told that it is supposed to be some sort of speaker cabinet emulator, but the important thing is that it makes things go boom! Just turn the body on and start playing with “type” knob.
The most basic production trick that I use all the time is just stacking sounds. Whether it's drums or synths, I stack complimentary textures and sounds to create bigger more complex sounds that catch the listener's attention. I also apply the stacking concept to the mixer. One of my favorite additions to Reason in the past few years is the “create parallel channel” shortcut. Parallel channels allow me to use parallel compression to layer more texture and more importantly punch to my sounds.
Crushing a parallel channel with the built in compressor on the mixer is one of the best tricks that I can suggest for getting great sounding drums.
What do you do when inspiration just isn't there?
When inspiration isn’t there, I like to fall back on my REX file library. I have an amazing resource of a couple hundred GB’s of REX files that I have compiled and chopped up over the past 15 years. I usually just pull up a Dr. Rex player, start thumbing through samples and I usually have song inspiration soon after. The folder is all organized by the artist sampled and so it makes it really convenient to find stuff.
What’s your all-time favorite album?
Tough to say but as an album you can’t really beat Prince’s “Purple Rain”. It's just the perfect album, no lulls and everything transitions into each other so seamlessly like a singular piece of art. It doesn’t hurt that all nine songs on it are hits as well.
The three most used devices in your Reason rack?
One would have to be the Redrum. I have at least 6 running on every single song that I make and sometimes as many as 30 of them running. I like to have one Redrum for every drum sound. It keeps things organized and it also automatically makes sure that I have a fader on the mixer for every drum sound. Unless it's a drum loop out of the Dr. Rex, I do every single drum sound in my songs using the Redrum, and even with with Dr. Rex Drum loops, I always use Redrums to stack more sounds on top of the loops. Sometimes I use a MIDI controller to write the drum parts, but I usually just program everything in the Redrum step sequencer.
The second one would be the Synchronous Effect Modulator. The design of the modulation matrix on it is just genius and so easy to use. I like all the effects on it but honestly the one that I use 99% of the time is the lopass filter. You can modulate it so easily and it really instantly gives you that filtered vibe that is so popular in today’s urban music.
The third one is a new addition to my setup but it's getting a lot of use, the Hydronexius ROM Workstation from DNA Labs. It's a combination of a ROMpler and a Oscillator based synth. The presets for it are awesome and DNA Labs keeps designing more of them. It's definitely my first go to synth.
Honorable mention has got to go to the RV7000. It's just so versatile and I use it for both extreme, obvious effects and for adding subtle space or depth.
All the algorithms sound great but most of the time I don’t even get past the standard Hall setting. It's the only reverb that I like to use on big snares too.
I use the combinator all the time too, but I feel like including it is cheating because it can contain anything. I do use them all over the place though, as instruments or on channel strips or as a send/return effect on the mixer.
What motivates your creative ideas and creative activity?
I get motivated just hearing any music that was put together well. I definitely get a lot of motivation and inspiration listening to classic records but I also get just as much, if not more, inspiration from listening to new music. Once you’ve really studied every aspect of music creation, there is always some element in a song that can give you ideas. Everything from a lyric, a melody, a chord, a drum sound to just simply an arrangement can inspire me to start a song.