Fruity Loops has always been a different kind of PC music making program. Loved by those who prefer to create music using patterns, it became the heart of thousands of home studios dedicated to making dance tracks, partly due to its low entry price and partly because of an aggressive – and unusual – policy of offering free updates for life. That whacky interface didn’t hurt either, attracting musicians looking for funky alternatives to more sedate programs like Cubase and Cakewalk.
FL Studio 9 works just like its predecessors. You create musical patterns using the various built-in samples and instruments in the pattern sequencer and then arrange these in the playlist to form a song; after that you can add ‘real’ instruments like vocals or acoustic guitar by recording them via your audio interface, straight onto the playlist.
You can apply any of 40 available effects at any point and then mix the lot on a 104-track stereo mixer. FL Studio 9 plays nicely with other music software so can be used alongside programs like Reason or Cubase and has good support for external MIDI devices.
The new version adds some welcome new features including better ways of working with multiple effects – both in the mixer and in terms of support for multi-core CPUs – plus some much needed additions to the playlist that make it easier to organise tracks, a ‘riff machine’ which automatically generates musical sequences, and a way to group notes on the piano roll, which is a real time saver when you’re doing lots of fine editing. Elsewhere there are several new plug-ins, the pick of which is Vocodex, a fine sounding vocoder.
Years of development have turned FL Studio into something of a magical mystery tour and while common sense (and user interface conventions) says this isn’t necessarily the best way to go about things, there’s no doubt that it has charm and that – eventually – you’ll find a way to get pretty much anything done. If you do get into a tailspin, there’s fast, truly context-sensitive help. And anyway, how can you knock a program that includes an effect called the ‘Soundgoodizer’?
Love it or hate it, FL Studio is still one of the best ways to build up complex loops and patterns using almost any kind of instrument, and even though you might prefer to arrange a song using something more conventional – like Record or Cubase – FL studio has the chops to play an important part in the musical process. We often use it create snazzy loops, save them as WAVs and then import them into Logic and create the rest of the song from there. However, for those accustomed to its particular ways, it also continues to develop apace as a full-blown digital audio workstation, that now belies its pattern-based roots.
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