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Some recording software works hard to convince you that music is Serious Business. But the passion of FL Studio''s designers is to make music fun! FL Studio serves up a full suite of software tools for producing no-compromise, state-of-the-art mixes — yet the user interface is exciting, inviting, and unique. One glance at the FL Studio window and you''ll want to reach out and touch: It''s that tactile.
FL Studio integrates perfectly with third-party VST and DX plug-ins, both synthesizers and effects, but you may not need them. Even the basic versions of FL have several built-in synths and effects, and the XXL Edition is packed: included are a powerhouse FM synth, a full-featured sampler, a high-energy physical modeled guitar synth, and a modular programming environment called SynthMaker, in which you can create entirely new instruments and effects from scratch. Plus, all versions except the entry-level Express provide access to a huge downloadable library of free samples.
In this article we''ll look at XXL. For details on the various versions, go to www.flstudio.com, click on the Demo button, and click on Feature Comparison.
There''s so much in FL Studio that an article about it is always in danger of turning into a laundry list of great features. As you read the descriptions below, don''t lose sight of the music. Feel free to imagine what it would be like to roll out your own stellar mixes with this amazing program. (Or download the demo and find out!)
The Big Picture
FL Studio is a pattern-based sequencer with track-based workflow, too, so it offers maximum convenience for dance and hip-hop producers and remixers: You can create a few cool patterns and insert them end to end to make a full song arrangement, then overdub a couple of longer tracks that need to change, such as vocals or lead lines.
The software is not just for dance and hip-hop, though: For sessions with live musicians, the multitrack audio recorder can lay down tracks from all of the inputs on your hardware at once. And the Slayer plug-in is deadly accurate at metal and grunge guitar, thanks to a physical model that lets you move the pickup, change strings, switch to a single- or double-coil pickup, and select an amp and speaker cabinet.
FIG. 1: In FL Studio's Playlist window, you can mix and match audio, automation, and MIDI patterns. Using the pop-up menu, you can switch any pattern in the track to any other, making it easy to try out different fills, or make a pattern unique so it won't be affected by later edits on other instances.
FL''s Playlist window (see Fig. 1) combines audio clips, pattern (MIDI/Synth) clips, and automation envelope clips in a single seamless interface. The older pattern grid is still included, but patterns can now be inserted and moved around graphically in the clip area.
Intelligent automation is an FL specialty: Grab a knob or slider and record its moves while the music plays, map your own hardware sliders to FL parameters, or create multisegment envelopes and drag them forward or backward in the song. You can even process the automation data in real time using math functions. For instance, you might want to move the mod wheel and have three different parameters respond to it in different ways — one inverted, one normal, and one with a clipped curve that reaches its maximum when the wheel is only halfway up. No other sequencer can do this.
With the XXL Edition you get Sytrus, an amazingly deep synthesizer, and the DirectWave sampler. Sytrus does classic six-operator FM synthesis and stunning analog sounds, and lets you create additive synthesis waveforms too. Its rich supply of multisegment envelopes open up some radical sound design possibilities. DirectWave links directly to “home base” over the Internet, so you can download multisampled instruments as you need them. All of the usual sound playback features are included in DirectWave, and if you need extra control over the sample data you can load it into FL''s Edison plug-in.
Using the Wave Traveller plug-in, you can program complex “scratching” moves on any chunk of audio and then trigger them live from a MIDI keyboard. If you need goofy robot voices for an electronic mix, load the Speech Synthesizer. Or maybe you''d rather generate mysterious sounds based on a graphic image using BeepMap.
Gigging with FL? With the Fruity Notebook plug-in, you can pop up a window containing lyrics (or notes on which sliders you need to grab next). This window can be automated so it changes as the song plays. If you have a fast computer and a big screen, launch FL''s stunning Chrome plug-in for some video synthesis effects, again synchronized to the music.
New in FL 8 is a Score Logger, which is always recording MIDI in the background. When you play a cool lick, saving it to a new piano-roll track is a one-click operation. In the effects department, the Fruity Limiter and the cleverly named Soundgoodizer have been added. The Soundgoodizer has just one knob, but as you turn it up the music gets louder without overloading. A multiband compressor is also included in FL Studio, of course. A complex delay line, morphing graphic EQ, a vocoder, and other effects are also part of the package.
Another great feature of FL Studio is the ability to create your own on-screen control panels for external hardware synthesizers. Just load a new Dashboard, add some knobs, sliders, switches, and numerical readouts, and then give each of them an output controller type.
FIG. 2: The powerful Slicex plug-in loads WAV and REX files, slices the WAV files automatically, and gives you a bank of eight Articulators (upper right) for adding filters and envelopes to individual slices. The gray square at the top is a mousable X/Y control pad
If you use drum loops, you''re going to love Slicex (see Fig. 2), which is brand new in FL 8. It has everything you''ve ever dreamed of, and some things you probably haven''t. It has a “dual deck” implementation, for instance, with which you can crossfade from one beat to another.
You can drag and drop either pre-sliced REX files or raw WAV files into Slicex. WAV files are automatically sliced up, and trigger notes are automatically loaded into a piano-roll track in the current pattern. The slice detecting algorithm does a great job of spotting the drum hits in a loop, but if it misses one, you can edit the slice points by dragging them around on the waveform. If you give the slices names, the names show up in the piano-roll for the Slicex track.
Each slice in the loop can be sent through any of Slicex''s eight Articulators. Each Articulator serves up a multimode filter, an LFO, envelopes, and automatable X/Y modulation control from the Slicex mouse pad.
Once you''ve finished massaging the loop in Slicex, you can send each slice to its own mixer channel to apply effects. Another option is to drag an individual slice to the Pattern window, where you can use FL''s original pushbutton pattern interface to construct an entirely new beat.
If you''ve ever dreamed of creating your own visionary synthesizer, SynthMaker will be a dream come true. This bundled version of the award-winning OutSim software has all the programming features of the original, lacking only the ability to export your newly created instruments as free-standing VST plug-ins.
SynthMaker comes with a variety of instruments and effects already created, from the ethereal Morph Machine to the aggressive UniRetro. Many of them stack oscillators to produce especially fat sounds. The instrument library will surely expand as FL users start uploading their contributions. The FL Studio Download Manager gives you instant access to the library.
If a downloaded SynthMaker instrument is inspiring but not satisfying, you can pop open the SynthMaker programming panel and add oscillators, change the filter type, or whatever else you might imagine. Programming SynthMaker is an intellectual exercise, and you''ll have to read the manual, but you don''t need to get that deep in order to use the instruments that others have already assembled.
The Last Word
Thinking of FL Studio as strictly for electronic dance music would be a huge mistake. It''s both a recording platform and a creative tool, and it''s ideal for anything from new age and ballads to speed metal and grunge, from hip-hop to contemporary jazz. So what are you waiting for? Why not test out Image-Lines' claim that FL Studio really is the fastest way from your brain to your speakers?