FL Studio is a DAW used by hip hop and EDM DJs like Martin Garrix, Zardonic Boi-1da, Alan Walker, Southside, Dyro, Afrojack, etc. among many others. Therefore, we thought it would be nice to have a tutorial on the FL Studio basics for beginners of music production.
The digital audio workstation, FL Studio, formerly known as FruityLoops, is developed by the Belgian company Image-Line. It features a graphical user interface based on a pattern-based music sequencer. The program is available in four separate editions for macOS and Microsoft Windows, including Fruity Edition, Producer Edition, Signature Bundle, and All Plugins Bundle.
Not to mention that Image-Line offers a lifetime of free updates to the program to its customers. Image-Line has also developed FL Studio Mobile for iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.
History of FL Studio
Didier Dambrin developed the first version of FruityLoops (1.0.0). It was partly released in December 1997. It was officially launched in early 1998 when it was still a four-channel MIDI drum machine. Dambrin became Chief Software Architect for the program, and it speedily underwent a sequence of large upgrades that made it into a popular and multifaceted digital audio workstation.
FL Studio has undergone twelve major updates since its inauguration.
Table of Contents
Introduction to FL Studio basics for beginners
The first thing to know about FL Studio is that all the windows are adjustable/movable. That’s the beauty of this DAW, it’s infinitely customizable, especially, in comparison to its arch nemesis, Ableton Live.
Nothing is fixed, besides the toolbar across the top of the screen, which is what we will look at first. Here you will find the File, Edit, Options, and much more on the top left.
A lot of them are straightforward, or just itemized versions of the various buttons and knobs that lay across the interface already, so don’t get hung up on these.
Transport Section of FL Studio
At the center, you’ll find the transport section – play, stop, and record buttons for playback. Those should be self-explanatory.
In this section, you’ll see two options – Pat and Song. This allows you to switch between playing what’s in the Channel Rack and what’s in the Arrangement. By doing this, it becomes easy to stretch ideas and make song smoothly.
You’ll see a variety of buttons, and also a time counter alongside a few visual effects. This helps you to visualize and time your music, as well as, tells you the current load on your computer’s CPU.
Snap Section in FL Studio (basics)
Underneath, you have a universal snap control (where it says ‘Line’ on the above image), which determines the snapping of the grids across the piano roll and Arrangement.
If that’s not making sense, it keeps everything quantized in time (to a specific interval) across your music. The snap control can be specified at those levels individually too (piano roll etc.).
Browser in FL Studio (basics)
FL Studio’s Browser is where all your material comes from, whether its samples, presets, or instruments. Browser is used to add a sample in the project, open old project files, fetch presets from the library, etc.
Packs in FL Studio
The Packs folder includes all of FL Studio’s default sounds. They are, in reality, not bad when you know how to use/utilize them.
If you check it wisely, you will see many drums, snare, claps, FX samples, etc. We’ll get into how to use these in the Channel Rack section (see below).
Current Project in FL Studio
Either by navigating to this folder, or clicking on the paper icon at the top, you’ll arrive at the Current Project folder. This will show you all sounds, automation clips, actions, or anything done in the current project.
Plugin Database in FL Studio
Similar to how Current Project works, you can the Plugin Database window in the main view, or by clicking on the ‘plug’ icon at the top right of the Browser window. This will show you all the effects and generator (a fancy way of saying instrument) plugins. Any third-party VSTs or plugins you add will show up here too.
Channel Rack in FL Studio
If the Browser is your toolbox and material, then the Channel Rack is your workbench. Here is where you can make patterns and bring ideas to life. It forms an essential part of FL Studio.
It is loaded up with four stock sounds. Now, you’re welcome to use these, but feel free to use your browser knowledge to find some other good sounds.
Step Sequencer in FL Studio
A critical part of the Channel Rack is the step sequencer, and this allows you to sketch out ideas quickly.
To add a step, left click on the box. You can also drag across to add multiple. To delete a step, right click on a box (even with the option of also dragging).
Just left of the sequencer, you’ll find the title of each channel in a box, with a thin LED next to each. When the LED is left-clicked or lit up, the current channel is selected. Clicking on the box with the name also selects that channel.
When a channel is selected, you can use relevant applicable menu settings we discovered earlier by revealing the dropdown menu options.
Piano Roll in FL Studio
Piano roll is one of the most robust and impressive features of FL studio. If the Step Sequencer isn’t enough for you, then the Piano Roll will help you write melodies, chords, and more complex rhythms and patterns.
FL Studio is famed for its incredible Piano Roll, and the smooth functionality it has to offer. Just try putting in a couple of notes, and you’ll be in love!
Tools in the Piano Roll in FL Studio
Beyond that, the Piano Roll nearly has enough functionality to be its own program. We won’t go into much depth here, but we will unpack a few of its key features to get you banging out chord progressions in no time.
Firstly, the main tools on the toolbar:
- Draw: Draw in notes and move them around
- Paint: Paint in notes and repeat them (by dragging)
- Paint (Sequencer): Paint in steps and repeat them (by dragging)
- Delete: Remove notes by clicking on them
- Mute: Deactivate individual notes by clicking on them
- Slice: Break notes into multiple parts by clicking and dragging a line
- Select: Click and hold to select a group of notes
- Zoom: Click to zoom in on all notes; click and drag to zoom into a specific area
- Playback: One of my favorite features allowing you to hear what notes are playing at a given time by just clicking.
Arrangement in FL Studio
So, you’ve made some patterns in the Channel Rack and want to make them into a full track? The arrangement view is designed to do just that.
On the left, in the Picker, any patterns you create in the Channel Rack will be selected and dragged in. You can place these in any track.
However, the Arrangement is where you can use more than just patterns — a lot more.
You can drag in audio samples directly into the Arrangement and structure them however you want, without having to load them into a sampler and play them with notes first.
Additionally, any automation clips you create will appear here, which we will get into in the last section.
Similar to the Channel Rack, there are a variety of tracks you can drag clips onto. The height of these tracks can be resized, turned on and off by left-clicking on them, and soloing individual tracks by right-clicking.
Once again, the menu is in the top left, but we won’t get into all of those functions. Feel free to give them a look if you’re into that.
Mixer Channel in FL Studio
Once you have your sounds arranged as per yourself, the mixer is where all the magic happens with processing. Personally, the mixer is one of my favorite tools for creative sound design because of the processing and routing capabilities. So, let’s start with the main features.
Each channel will be assigned to a mixer track from the Channel Rack, as per the number we discussed earlier. If not, you can select a number to route it to.
On the main interface, you can see all the mixer channels, and the master channel on the far left. The meter on the far left indicates the level of your entire track, whereas the small meters along the track indicate the level of each track.
For each track, you have a mute switch, a volume fader, pan controls (for moving a sound left and right), stereo imager (for making things sound more stereo or mono), and other switches that are more advanced.
These are your main tools for mixing. Most of the mixing work will be on the volume faders, balancing the individual levels of sounds to make them blend nicely.
You’ll also see a bunch of green +lines down the bottom. This indicates the routing of each channel, which, by default, is straight to the master channel (the big one on the left).
Inserting Plugins in FL Studio
So, the inserts on the right are where all FX are added to process each mixer track. Down the bottom, you have a basic EQ to mess around with; but the slots above are where you can add some of FL’s built-in effect plugins, or third-party ones.
Left click on the slot to open up a menu to select from the variety of plugins. There are many here to use, but some of the main and more practical ones are:
- Fruity Parametric EQ2 (EQ Effect)
- Fruity Delay 3 (Delay Effect)
- Fruity Reverb 2 (Reverb Effect)
- Fruity Limiter (Limiter/Compressor Effect)
Each of these requires a lesson on how the various FX types works, so click the above links to see some great resources on those.
Plugins in FL Studio
If you want to add plugins (and be wary of this if you are a new producer), then follow the next steps to begin adding your Serums and your Ozones.
Firstly, you’ll want to head to the Options > File Settings again and click on Manage Plugins. This will bring up a new window with a variety of options.
Secondly, FL Studio knows how to find plugins pretty well, so click on the Find Plugins button in the top left. Wait a bit while it scans through your computer (you might want to grab yourself a coffee if you have many plugins).
Once done, it will list out all the plugins you’ve got installed. If you’re super indie and need to add a custom folder to scan, click on the plus folder icon in the top right of the plugin search path area. Just navigate and choose a folder.
Moving ahead, leave the Plugin Manager and go to the Browser > Plugin database and they will all be there. When you load it up, if you want it to appear alongside the list of FL Studio plugins, click on the menu in the top left and select ‘add’ to plugin database.
When you go to add effects in the mixer or generators in the Channel Rack, they’ll all be there!
Automation in fl Studio
Automation is one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of modern electronic music production. It allows you to add movement to sounds, influence the energy and tension, and fix up any mixing issues throughout the duration of your track, not just that but more.
If you find yourself playing around with any control in FL Studio or any of the native plugins, right click on it and select ‘Create Automation Clip.’
In the Arrangement, a new clip will appear with a line, describing the control that you just automated.
Right click on the line anywhere to add an automation point, and left click to move it around. Then, edit the automation by clicking on the automation line and moving the inner line in automation according to the requirement of nobs in plugins.
Furthermore, if you right-click on a specific automation point, you can change the curve type, which is super fun to play around .
Edison in FL Studio
Now, if you are familiar with other DAWs, then you might ask where the bouncing and audio processing functionality is?
If you’re not, that last sentence must have left you confused.
Either way, let’s take a look at Edison and what it does.
Edison is FL Studio’s audio recorder, processor, manipulator, whatever you want to call it. You can load it up on a slot in the insert FX area of the mixer.
Note: Normally, it is best to put it on the master channel, so it doesn’t get lost. By itself, it is not a typical effect and functions more as a way to record audio for resampling it back into your track. Saying that, if you want to put it on an individual track, go ahead!
Try dragging in a sample from the Browser into the large sample area at the bottom, or clicking record, and recording something from the track.
Now the last thing you probably want to know is how to export your track once done.
Because, finishing the music produced is the ultimate aim!
Well, let’s take a look. Navigate to the top toolbar and click the save icon with the wave underneath it. After choosing where to export, the following window will come up.
There’s a lot to take in here, but let’s talk about the key things to remember.
- Make sure Mode is set to Full song to export the entire Arrangement.
- Select the desired format in the second section. MP3 exporting will give you extra options like bitrate, etc.
- Make sure all the other settings are set like above for a standard export.
- You may want to enable dithering if you know all about that.
- Also, saving tempo information will write the BPM to the file tags.
- After that, hit start and watch your masterpiece export like a boss.
So, hoping to have cleared your doubts on FL Studio basics for beginners of music production. Now, go and start a new project on FL Studio and let us know in comments below if you face any difficulties in producing tracks on FL Studio. Furthermore, let us also know if you want us to cover some other important topics. We would be happy to help!
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