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FL Studio: the first-choice DAW for crafting beats

FL Studio 20

FL Studio – formerly known as FruityLoops – hit the streets in 1998. Released by Belgian company Image-Line and designed by Didier ‘Gol’ Dambrin, the first iteration of this software featured a simple four-channel MIDI drum machine, with a classic step-sequencer interface. This novel and quaint approach computer-based beatmaking took off.

In the clamour to get a piece of the action, downloads overwhelmed the Image-Line servers. This company – who had previously never considered the music market – was onto a clear winner. Fast-forward a couple of decades and this humble step-sequencing companion has evolved into a full-blown DAW.FL Studio 20

FL Studio has morphed from a basic step-sequencing software into a full-blown production environment. 20 years on from its birth, it has become an EDM and hip-hop powerhouse.

Back in the ’90s

While you catching up on the latest Seinfeld episode or thinking about buying your first mobile phone, the crew at Image-Line were busy. They were developing video games and took on a prodigious Didier Dambrin. His first version of FruityLoops looks just you’d imagine, a clunky grid with four rows of classic XOX style step-sequencing capability.

Seeing the obvious potential in the development of FruityLoops, Image-Line added effects and audio recording capability over their next few incremental updates. In version 3, they added the piano roll, thus expanding the musical roles that the software could fulfil for its users.

The biggest change, however, came with the change of name. FruityLoops was getting bigger and there was a certain cereal had a very similar name… It was also time for this program to grow up and fully realise its potential. And so, FL Studio as we know it today was born.

In this fourth version of the software, the Playlist view was incorporated, marking an evolutionary leap for FL Studio. In some ways, it brought it into line with other players in the market; the Playlist looks like the equivalent of an ‘edit’ or ‘timeline’ view on other DAWs. The main architecture of FL Studio was set by this time, but there many more additions in instruments, effects and audio processing plugins to come.

Fruity Loops screen

The original Fruity Loops interface.

A couple of years ago, FL Studio turned 20. No, that doesn’t that there have been 20 full versions of the software – it earned the tag for being alive for 20 years. With this version, it was opened up to the world of Mac OS – becoming the first version compatible with this operating system. And like Ableton with their Push, the company also got into the proprietary hardware arena, collaborating with AKAI to bring out the FL Studio Fire controller.

Everyone will have their preferences in the DAW wars, but FL Studio has evolved into a platform that can do everything the others can. Other features that users can take for granted now include audio recording, including intuitive punch-ins and punch-outs, extensive automation, flexible MIDI and audio clip management. Plus, there’s an incredible mobile app that has a lot of these features in a portable package.

Making scenes

Of course, it’s the players that make the platform. FL Studio has historically been favoured by hip-hop and EDM beatmakers. In 2007, Soulja Boy cranked out Crank That on his copy of the program, making him a global star. The ready availability of the software compared to expensive hardware meant that it spread like wildfire through a new generation of digital-native hip-hop artists.

EDM artists have historically been attracted to the allure of the FL Studio workflow. The speed at which beats and layers can come together in FL Studio has long since attracted the likes of Martin Garrix, the late Avicii and was once favoured by Flume. Genius has this to say about its influence in the UK:

In the UK, grime and dubstep were practically born out of the software. Many producers, like dubstep pioneers Benga and Skream, took the logical leap from Music Creation For The Playstation to FruityLoops in their teens.”

Perhaps the Playstation connection is prescient. FL Studio was built by a game designer, for a generation who were au faix with games, not necessarily audio production. The interface provided a game-like atmosphere in which players could be free to experiment. Other more established DAWs like Pro Tools offered a seamless transition from the hardware to software world for someone who has a background in audio.

After all these years and the myriad ways in which FL Studio has become professional, it has still maintained the feature that made it unique all the way back in version 1.0 – the drum machine and step-sequencer. By staying true to it roots while pushing its innovative spirit, FL Studio looks set to create new styles of music and generations of producers for years to come.

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February 17, 2020