How to make your 808 drum kick blast on laptop speakers.

Most of us beat-creators, producers and musicians have invested in a pair of studio speakers or at least a decent quality headphone. Unfortunately, the same does not go for the people listening to our tunes. So, we as professionals need to find ways to work around the limitations of the bad playback equipment used by our audience.

One of the problems these limitations create is how do we get our bad ass 808 kick drum to sound on laptop speakers or standard Apple earbuds? These cannot display anything under 100Hz, so it would seem impossible, right?

In this Quick Tip I’m going to teach you an advanced technique I use on every song I mix:

Using harmonics to trick the brain into hearing frequencies that the playback medium cannot display.

Sounds complicated? The theory is, the practical solution is not.

Harmonics #1

Musical Theory

The reason why certain notes on a piano sound good together (resulting in chords) and why some notes don’t (sounding ‘dissonant’) is because the harmonic frequencies of those notes match or don’t match. When notes match, such as the C, E and G note creating a C Major chord those notes are in harmony.

Each frequency and sound have an harmonic overtone pattern that starts with the base frequency and keeps expanding with the addition of that base frequency number.

Example harmonic pattern of 40Hz:

  First Harmonic:          40Hz
  Second Harmonic:     80Hz
  Third Harmonic:        120Hz
  Fourth Harmonic:      160Hz
  Fifth Harmonic:         200Hz

Visual example of the harmonic structure of a C note:

Harmonics #2

Practical Uses

That’s enough with the theory. How do we use this knowledge to get our 808 kicks to translate on laptop speakers?

If we boost the harmonic frequencies of the base note of our 808 kick (=first harmonic) our brains will fool us into thinking the first harmonic is louder than it actually is.
The higher the harmonic you boost the less this effect will become noticeable.

If we want our sub-low at 35hz to come through we need to boost 70hz and 105hz. This is of course a simplified explanation and you need to make sure that you pick a fundamental tone frequency (first harmonic) that matches the key of your song. If your song is in the key of C Major you will want to tune your 808 kick to a C and use either 32,7hz or 65,41hz as your first harmonic, since those frequencies correspond with the C note.

(Learn how to tune your 808 kicks here)

By boosting harmonic frequencies other non-existent frequencies will sound louder too.

Tools to Use

If you simply boost the harmonics of your fundamental frequency using an EQ you might not get the results you were hoping for. This is because most EQs have quite a wide bandwidth (Q) and will boost many frequencies around your harmonic frequency too. That’s why I like to use a plug-in called MaxxBass by Waves. Simply input your fundamental tone frequency and up the Max Bass slider to increase the effect. There are many alternatives to MaxxBass though, just Google ‘Bass enhancement plug-in’.

Harmonic Enhancement Plugin (MaxBass by Waves)

Continue to the next Quick Tip:
How to make your beats groove.