Fruity loops. Photograph (CC-BY) Sherman Tan.

Like well-stocked studios of hardware, software has become personal, idiosyncratic, and stuffed with functionality. Computer producers are passionate as always about what works. And that has made FL Studio a kind of subculture all its own. Image-Line has a unique way of encouraging loyalty: while the company still peddles new add-ons to its existing customer base, the expansive functionality of the FL Studio program and all its major instruments and effects are included in lifetime free upgrades. FL Studio is a program you buy once that keeps getting better, without the usual upgrade purchase treadmill.

So, when we talk about everything that’s new in FL Studio 9, or FL Studio 9.1, released last week, those improvements are free to existing users.

You can read my review of FL Studio 9 for Keyboard Magazine:

It’s a strange thing that the word “toy” has come to have negative connotations in music tech. Apparently, we want our music tools to be big and powerful, like a chainsaw, ideally emitting manly gasoline fumes. But when we talk about music, we use the word “play.” FL Studio is nothing if not a toybox. But it’s a toybox in the best sense.

FL Studio 9 Review

Riff Machine could be used to make some awful music, but with some creative adjustments, it could also be a way to spark new ideas when you need something fresh.

FL Studio 9 introduces a number of improvements, including a Riff Machine (pictured above), which can dynamically generate musical ideas if you’re stuck for inspiration. Perhaps more importantly, the upgrade also delivers more intelligent routing and MIDI control, and a really gorgeous vocoder. (Yes, Reason, Live, and FL Studio now all have vocoders; what’s interesting to me is that they’re each quite different, true to the personalities of the three developers.)

FL Studio 9.1 adds still more, as you can see in the video above. There’s a brand-new drum modeling engine called Drumpad, which should couple perfectly with FL’s sequencing features. (It’d even go nicely with that aforementioned Riff Machine, for some complex, generative patterns. Ah, I think I know what I’m doing with my Saturday night now.) There’s also a real-time convolution plug-in, which sounds like a fun feature to abuse.

There are lots of additional videos on the FL forum, though true to form, I find this isn’t necessarily how everyone uses the program:

FL Studio Guru

Tips for Getting Started, with Jim Aikin

Jim Aikin has long been one of my favorite writers in this field; you can find his work in Electronic Musician, Keyboard, and others, including the lesser-known but superb Virtual Instruments. But, since working with him as the technical editor – slash – life coach on my book, I’ve also gotten to enjoy Jim’s emails, which are frequently themselves packed with knowledge, musical ideas, and perspective. Jim is a cellist, and as someone with a classical and compositional background myself, I appreciate that slant on things. (It’s certainly not what people typically associate with FL Studio.)

FL Studio is a deep tool – deeper than I think a lot of people appreciate. But it’s not always clear where to begin. Jim shares his own take on how to get started with the tool, creatively.

He writes:

My #1 tip would be this: Assign every Generator to its own mixer channel. (And name the mixer channels, so as to avoid confusion.) Then automate your levels by right-clicking the mixer faders and creating automation clips. (After selecting the part of the song where you want the gain change, of course.) The reason to do it this way is because then you can use the volume knob next to the Generator itself for _global_ changes in the level of that instrument. You never have to mess with re-editing tons of automation data in order to make a global gain change from one end of the song to the other.

Here’s another tip, which I learned by posting a message on an FL forum: By default, FL does not patch your mod wheel moves or aftertouch through to the 3rd-party Generators (softsynths). If you’ve selected a patch that uses mod wheel or aftertouch and you actually want to play an expressive line, this is annoying. But there’s an easy fix: Open the instrument’s edit window and select Browse Parameters from the menu in the upper left corner of the window. This opens the Browser, with a complete list of parameters. Scroll down. At the bottom of the list you’ll find all 128 MIDI CC’s, and also aftertouch. (The MIDI CC list does not appear with built-in plug-ins such as Sytrus and Slayer.) Right-click on the knob icon beside the mod wheel, select Link To Controller, and wiggle the wheel. Now the plug-in will respond the way you want it to.

Here’s another one: You can create your own quantization templates. Record a bar of regular 16th notes (or whatever) to a piano-roll, edit it to taste, Open up the piano-roll window’s File menu, and choose Save Score As. Save it in FL Studio > Data > Patches > Scores > Quantization. Now here’s the bonus tip: There’s already a long list in that folder. So that you won’t have to scroll down to find one of yours every time you want to use one, start your file names with an underscore (such as _Shuffle16th_32.fsc). They will appear at the top of the file dialog when you access it from the Quantize box.

And another: Learn the QWERTY key equivalents. When you hover the mouse over a tool button, the key command equivalent is shown as a dark gray (almost invisible) letter at the right end of the info bar, under the word HELP. I’m constantly switching back and forth from Select (E) to Draw (P). Then there’s the scroll lock key (important) and the fact that left Alt is not the same as right Alt.

The new FL Studio 9 features, including the vocoder. Click for full-sized version.

Jim also shares a bit of how he uses FL in his own workflow:

I clone patterns a lot. But then, I’m a composer, not a loopin’ beatbox guy, if you see what I mean. I lay down a pattern that I like, and then I start to think, “Hmm … I need an extra hi-hat hit on the last beat in every other bar.” So I clone the pattern, delete the hi-hats from version 1 and everything else from version 2, then I put the hi-hat pattern in its own lane in the Playlist and clone it so I can alternate Hat #1 with Hat #2 in the Playlist. That would be a simple example.

The “Jump to next empty” command in the step sequencer is also indispensable, I find. When you’re in song mode and want to record something new, you almost always need to use that command before recording.

The grouping function in the step sequencer is nice. I usually group all of the percussion channels together, just to get them out of the way visually.

After adding a generator, go to the Channel Settings box and give it its own mixer channel routing (“FX”). This is a good habit to get into. With multi-channel VST plug-ins, the MIDI Out generator is absolutely essential — if you can’t figure out how to make this work, let me know, as it’s a little twisty.

Be sure to check out Slicex. It’s a killer plug-in for any type of sampled beat loop. A number of other plug-ins … just go down the Generators list and try them all. Beepmap is cool (it’s a postage-stamp-sized version of [visual/image-based synthesis tool] Metasynth), Slayer rocks, the Drumsynth is stupidly good for analog percussion, Wave Traveller is great for programming scratches, and you can do some fun stuff with the Speech Synthesizer as well. Oh, and SynthMaker … a complete programmable synth, under the hood. Some of the synths that ship with it aren’t that inspired, but SynthMaker is capable of doing many of the kinds of patches that Reaktor does.

The live mode features are not as extensive as those in Live, but they’re usable, I think. Check ‘em out.

And have fun — FL, in my experience, seems to make music fun again.

FL users, got tips we missed?

Has anyone created something with the included version of SynthMaker they’d like to share?

Other questions?

Let us know. And yes, we’ll keep calling it Fruity Loops.

  • Jim Aikin

    Thanks for the article, Peter, and thanks for the compliments. Not to toot my own horn, but I have an article of sound design tips in the current issue of Drum. Also a short piece on Csound in the current EM.

  • http://www.myspace.com/k1ru six.fingered.chyld

    great article!

    long time user of flstudio…you just can't beat the lifetime producer edition upgrades..everytime they throw something different in the mix…i've had fun making my beats on fl and misusing it in live settings…it's definitely a great way to dive into the beatmaking universe :D

  • http://www.exodub.com Kyran

    You can make FL automatically assign a generator to a mixer track, by drag and dropping it from the browser/plugin picker to the mixer track you want.

    FL will route it there, give it a name, and it'll appear in your rack.

    Saves you the mess of first dragging it to the rack, opening its settings and then counting which lane you need.

  • Zarnoosh

    Nice tip Kyran, never though to try that. Though I name my generators according to what role they are fulfilling, so that part is irrelevant to me.

  • coolout

    I haven't tried fruityloops in years.

    1. Can you change the color of the GUI? it always seems too dark for my eyes.

    2. Is it true they just added PDC in this version?

  • http://rekkerd.org ronnie

    @coolout you can't change the GUI color easily, although people are creating some skins for it (I don't really like any of them though)…

    FL Studio already had PDC but now it's APDC (Assisted/automatic) so you don't have to set everything manually anymore.

  • Dion

    Jim Aikin, if you're "constantly switching back and forth from Select (E) to Draw (P)", you will be glad to learn that holding Ctrl and left-clicking/dragging will let you select notes and clips without permanently switching tools. Nearly all playlist & piano roll tools are accessible through modifier keys.

    For example, Ctrl+Right-clicking/dragging is probably the best way to navigate and zoom in the playlist/pr.

  • Polite

    Good old fruityloops. You've always been there for me. Even when i've hated your limited midi in support.

  • Jim Aikin

    Thanks for the tip, Dion! There's always more to learn. Until I watched the video, I didn't even realize 9.1 had added Drumpad. Not an easy synth to program, in my first experiments, but it has the potential to be very responsive to velocity.

  • http://www.mosdub.com max t

    been using FL for 8 years…am excited about checking out version 9

    to this day i still learn new little features and tricks…

    people say its a strange beast, but its the beast i know best…!

  • Automageddon

    I still have a producer license, however it sits idle since I moved to Mac.

    If they only made a Mac version, I'd go back to it straight away…

  • http://durkkooistra.com Durk

    @Automageddon: They wrote the program (when it was still called Fruity Loops) in Python, which restricts them in some aspects among them MAC compatibility.

    They should have changed before they started calling themselves FL Studio.

    I love FL, most intuitive program i have ever used. For work i have to use Protools and at home sometimes reaper for recording, the rest is all done in FL.

    All the major DAW's are just starting to upgrade their pianoroll while FL sported the best pianoroll i've ever worked with since version 5.

  • http://durkkooistra.com Durk

    Also a element worthy of mentioning is the newish slicer in FL: SliceX. Instead of FL slicer where you could only select transient via two knobs (hi/lo), this baby is packed with functionality. You can even add convo/ir reverb on single slices.

    I like to load 10+ individual recordings (of anything really) and start composing with that. Ideal with the horizontal tracker layout, a functionality that's hard to find anywhere else.

    Recently discovered functionality: WAV to MIDI via the Edison Player. Sing a melody and transcribe!

  • Tom

    The only DAW I use to create. The rest are for _editing_ what I create :-)

    There are just so many strange details hidden away in there. Like scripting the Edison sound editor in Pascal. That's very … Gol.

    The synthesisers are really nice too – Sytrus particularly.

  • http://fallsastar.com Foosnark

    I've used FL since… version 3, I think it was? The MIDI support is occasionally needlessly frustrating, but I haven't been happy with anything else as far as workflow goes.

    (I too am a piano roll guy, and clone a TON. I also clone instruments a fair amount, and even sometimes through saving/loading channel states, mixer tracks)

  • miSmiS

    Just for completeness ;-) … there is a FL clone called LMMS (Linux MultiMedia Studio) that looks like FL and runs on Linux *and* Windows. GPLed, of course. lmms.sourceforge.net

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @miSmiS: You know, I tried that. I think maybe there's something to be learned from such an exercise, and it's an interesting little tool. But I'd really much rather see creative reinterpretation rather than "cloning." Unfortunately, a lot of people seize on examples like that to say that *all* open source software "rips off" commercial tools and that nothing is original (which is, incidentally, very much not true).

  • http://www.electroconductor.com nucleon

    "Has anyone created something with the included version of SynthMaker they’d like to share?"

    Heres a basic Artillery 2 style MIDI triggered multi effect I was working on…

    http://forum.image-line.com/viewtopic.php?t=37366

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  • http://www.electroconductor.com nucleon

    Btw, its possible to create your own typing keyboard to piano keyboard mappings mentioned in the FL Guru video, using a basic script in notepad. Explained here…

    http://forum.image-line.com/viewtopic.php?t=51383

  • miSmiS

    @Peter Kirn: Maybe you are right. I just wanted to mention it; I don't use it myself, I'd rather build my setup with JACK, patching seq24 and various softsynths together and running that into Ardour. :-)

  • Kane

    For all the mac people, I've been successfully using FL Studio on osx using a wine shell created with Wine Bottler (http://winebottler.kronenberg.org/)
    Also some more info here, http://appdb.winehq.org/objectManager.php?sClass=

    It's not 100% perfect, but it's about 95% there and better than any mac alternative.

  • Orubasarot

    If only I could get that damn Granulizer out of FL Studio I'd never have to use it again. Anyone up to the task? The .dll doesn't work in other hosts.

  • FieryLungs

    @Durk

    fwiw you can right mouse click on the waveform slice display to either remove a slice, split the slice (at the point of the right mouse click) or copy the slice to the clipboard.

  • electronic_face

    @Orubasarot

    The Granulizer is a Fruity Generator, so it will never work in another host unless Imageline release it as a VSTi / AU / etc. But you can use FL Studio as a plugin in another host.

    http://flstudio.image-line.com/help/html/fruity_l

    I've been using FL for a very long time– even before it had the piano roll! It's my favorite piece of software, and the greatest purchase I've ever made.

    Although, my fantasy software would be Renoise with the FL Studio piano roll built in. Not as a replacement for the tracker view, but as an addition to it.

  • http://www.myspace.com/ideletemyself ideletemyself

    I tried Fruity Loops back in the day but that was when I was JUST getting into Ableton… I think I'll check out FL Studio 9.1 and see what's what. This article got me VERY interested even beyond what it was before…

    Thx Peter, always great work as per usual ;)

  • http://musi-source.blogspot.com Musicians Resources

    Great Article. Thanks Dude.

    Musicians Resources

  • http://www.onyx-ashanti.ning.com onyxashanti

    I am loving the drumpad plugin!

    I just added it to my gestural system. a can scan thru the parameters from left to right and up/down to change the parameters from booming kick, smoothly to rim shot/hi hat and it is AMAZING. really sounds great and adds a whole new aspect to my live drum programming. (i will post a vid soon)

    and as with so much associated with FL studio, it allows me to do things that (a) i was thinking to myself,"man…i wish i could do (this)" and (b) can't do easily with anything else.

    am i the only person that sees that Edison, with 1 or 2 tiny edits to its code, could be an end all, be all live looper also!?

    great article peter.

  • David

    Reading about this latest FL Studio makes me miss the days of Fruity Loops 2, my intro to electronic music. Would that there were a version for OSX, I would gladly try it again – there's some great features in there that I miss (currently I use Live as my main DAW w/ DP for other things).

  • http://www.midipixel.com Midipixel

    I got into FL Studio coming from Sonar about three years ago, mostly due to CDM's reviews about it. It took a while to learn the FL way of doing things, but once you do… wow! I've yet to see a more versatile beast. Nowadays I use it for every single game soundtrack I compose. With its sampler channels, it's also a superb sound design tool. The only part that still doesn't feel right is to use it for multitrack recording and editing. For that, I still go back to Sonar. But for everything else… FL to the task@

  • teidy g

    eh cambiado a mac pero se me hace dificil por k no hay un fl studio en mac k pena

  • http://www.myspace.com/studiohaen Studio Haen

    I just finished 100 remixes, all done in the new FruityLoops, the most versatile and fun tool I know

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  • Blob

    I just finished reading read this article. The new version and features look amazing. I tried out FL Studio versions 3 through 5 (some years ago), and really enjoyed it, but afterwards I settled on Ableton Live as my tool of choice.

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone here use FL Studio for live performance?

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