Flying High with FL Studio 6

In a field crowded with "do-everything" digital audio workstations, Image-Line's FL Studio 6 truly stands out. A key component in European dance-music studios
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In a field crowded with "do-everything" digital audio workstations, Image-Line's FL Studio 6 truly stands out. A key component in European dance-music studios, FL Studio is making major inroads in the American market as well. And while its step sequencer and sophisticated automation are optimized for lightning-quick production of beats and grooves, its audio tracks and extensive effects rack give it an edge for almost any genre or style, from ambient to hip-hop.

FL Studio is available in several versions for different budgets, but most musicians will want to go for the XXL package. This powerhouse installation includes both Sytrus, a top-of-the-line, six-oscillator FM and subtractive synth; and DirectWave, Image-Line's brand new sampler.

The bad news? FL Studio is strictly for Windows. Macintosh owners can only stand with their noses pressed against the window and tears running down their cheeks.

In this special report, we'll introduce FL Studio to those who have never experienced it and will also take a look at a few of the new features in the 6.0 release. As usual, Image-Line has packed the update with so many goodies that it would take many pages to explore them all, so we'll only hit a few high spots.

The World According to FL

FL Studio started out as a pattern-oriented sequencer with a suite of basic sound sources and effects and a library of percussion samples. Additions over the years have included audio tracks, automated beat-slicing, real-time scratching, amazingly deep automation features, a basic audio editor, and the best piano-roll MIDI editor in the industry.

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FIG. 1: A pattern in FL Studio contains notes to be played by the various Generators (the column on the left).

The workflow for a typical FL project starts with a few patterns (see Fig. 1), which can be created either by clicking buttons on a rhythm grid or by recording into a piano-roll window. Patterns are then inserted into the Playlist with a pencil or paintbrush tool to arrange a finished song.

Sytrus, DirectWave, Speech Synthesizer, Wave Traveller, Wasp XT, and FL's other synths provide a full palette of sounds, but you might like to add a favorite plug-in synth from another manufacturer for a specialized tone or a vintage vibe. No problem; FL Studio hosts both VST and DX instruments and effects, and it

Mix It Up

The redesigned mixer and new effects in FL 6 will give your music that vital sonic edge. The old limit of four aux sends has been abolished, automatic plug-in delay compensation has been added, and each channel can now be routed to a separate hardware output for surround mixing. Tiny icons can be inserted to simplify visual navigation in the 64-channel interface, and when you move channels left or right to group them in sensible ways, the FL sound sources assigned to them will come along for the ride.

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FIG. 2: FL Studio's EQUO plug-in takes equalization to a whole new level.

The most exciting new effect is EQUO, a 31-band graphic equalizer with morphing, analysis, and band-send capabilities (see Fig. 2). FL 6 also sports a new high-quality reverb, waveshaping distortion, an eight-way delay effect, and a multiband compressor suitable for mastering.

DirectWave

FL Studio has always done sample playback. But up until now, creating a multisample (a keyboard layout containing numerous samples) has been something of a chore. DirectWave changes all that. This full-featured multisampler is just the ticket, whether you need realistic horns and strings or a full drum kit that you can play from a MIDI keyboard. DirectWave's factory library includes choir, guitar, piano, organ, ethnic percussion, and much more.

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FIG. 3: The DirectWave sampler maps samples across the keyboard (top) and has a full set of voicing parameters for each sample zone (bottom).

With DirectWave's intuitive user interface (see Fig. 3), you can map samples across the keyboard and even give each its own upper and lower Velocity limits for more expressive playback from a keyboard. Sample loading is drag-and-drop. Each sample can have its own settings for two filters, two LFOs, and other useful modules. DirectWave has both sample-level effects (ring mod, decimator, quantizer, and phaser) and global effects (delay, reverb, and chorus). Furthermore, it can import WAV, SF2, Battery, Giga, Akai S-5000, EXS24, Amiga Mod, ReCycle, and Kontakt samples, giving you access to an abundance of sample libraries.

Sytrus

The Sytrus synth complements DirectWave perfectly: while DirectWave is optimized for realistic sounds, Sytrus specializes in rich but synthetic FM and analog timbres and propulsive rhythmic patterns. Additive synthesis and plucked-string tones are also part of the package. Sytrus gives you a full six-operator FM implementation—it can even load original Yamaha DX7 presets—yet it also has three multimode filters; dozens of looping, multisegment envelope generators; waveshaping; and a distinctive arpeggiator.

Tone Job

FL Studio's crisp graphics give it a strong and visceral presence on your computer screen; you feel like you're piloting a well-designed spaceship. But that wouldn't matter if the program's sound weren't world-class. Above all, music made in FL Studio will jump out of the speakers and amaze your listeners. So what are you waiting for? Jet over to www.flstudio.com and download the demo!

I also highly recommend you also check out "Master Class: Sweet Fruit, Strange Fruit" in the March 2003 issue of Electronic Musician magazine. (The story is available free at www.emusician.com.) Although the tips are for Image-Line's earlier Fruityloops 3.5, many work with FL Studio 6 as well.