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5 ways to celebrate 808 day: a free Roland online studio, tips, techniques and emulations

Roland clothing range
(Image credit: Ezra Thorne)

With the greatest respect to the the LinnDrum, it’s hard to imagine any instrument challenging Roland’s TR-808 for the title of ‘greatest drum machine of all time’. It’s had bands and albums (opens in new tab) named after it, been referenced multiple times in song, and produces a sound that’s even more popular today than it was when the 808 was released back in 1980.

No wonder, then, that 808 Day (8 August - geddit?) is now an annual celebration. In fact, for producers, it should probably be a public holiday.

While we can’t promise to swing a day off work for you, what we can do to mark this special occasion is bring you more thumping 808 content than you can shake an analogue maraca at.

In fact, we’ve come up with 5 ways to ensure that your 808 Day celebrations kick harder this year than ever before. And if you do party too hard, don’t worry too much: you’ve got more than a month to recover before the 909 Day festivities begin…

1. Play a free Roland TR-808 right now

Roland50 Studio

(Image credit: Roland)

That's right - if you're reading this, there's a pretty good chance that you could be playing an official Roland TR-808 within seconds, and completely free.

This is thanks to the Roland50 Studio, a free browser-based online platform that enables you to make music using some of the company’s most famous gear of the past 50 years.

So, not only can you program beats with the 808, but there are also SH-101, TB-303, SP-404, TR-606 and TR-707 emulations awaiting your attention.

A countdown clock indicates that a TR-909 could be added to the line-up pretty soon, too (it's set to run down on 9 September), so get the Roland50 Studio (opens in new tab) bookmarked now. 

2. Watch the 808 movie

Yes, believe it or not, the 808 is so iconic that it's actually had an almost-Hollywood-blockbuster made about its life and influence. What other drum machine can say that? (And no, the truly jaw-dropping 2010 Elektron Octatrack launch video (opens in new tab) doesn't count).

The 2015 film features appearances and commentary from Arthur Baker, Pharrell, David Guetta, Phil Collins, Lil Jon, Afrika Bambaataa, Norman Cook, Rick Rubin, Diplo, Goldie and more. It was directed by Alexander Dunn.

You'll find it available to buy or rent in the usual digital places.

3. Learn some 808 history

Everyone knows that the 808 is a legend, but do you really know why? 

If there are some gaps in your history knowledge, we can help. We can tell you what made the 808 such an icon, why its kick remains one of the most sought-after sounds in electronic music, and where it slots into the pantheon of great drum machines.

Oh, and make sure you check out the 'lost' original TV advert for the 808 above, too...

4. Improve your 808 technique

Roland TR-808

(Image credit: Future)

One of the most attractive things about the 808 is its relative simplicity - even a beginner can be making beats on it in no time - but that doesn't mean it doesn't have depth.

If you want to take your 808 skills to the next level, the MusicRadar archive is bursting with helpful tips and tutorials. You can discover how to get creative with your tuning, program trap and juke style patterns and process that classic kick.

5. Get some new 808 sounds for your studio

Roland Aira T-8

(Image credit: Roland)

Finally, if you're ready to flex your credit card (or not, in some cases) there are plenty of ways to spend money on a new 808-style instrument.

As you might expect, Roland is all over the emulation market, with its TR-08, TR-8, TR-8S, TR-6S and super-cute T-8 beat machines all delivering the goods. Inevitably, there's an official plugin version of the 808, too, available on the Roland Cloud.

Plenty of third parties have created 808-alikes, too. Behringer's RD-8 hardware offers a typically unsubtle nod to Roland's original, and there are countless plugin emulations, D16's Nepheton probably being the most notable.

Samples offer another route into the 808 universe. Goldbaby's Tape808 collection is a definite highlight here - in fact, it's considered to be one of the greatest sample packs of all time - or you could download some free sounds via our own SampleRadar: a collection of weighty kicks and a bundle of processed hits and loops.

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology. 

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