Making music in Fruityloops: Part I

Whether you're looking at putting an original score to your latest home video project or adding original music to your Web page, or you're just a bit of a bedroom musician, the computing power of today's PCs means that you no longer need a sizeable investment in dedicated hardware in order to create sample-based music. Many Web sites such as www.analoguesamples.com offer royalty-free samples for download.

The demo version of Fruityloops 3 has the project save facility disabled, but will allow you to save to WAV (16-bit 44KHz stereo - CD quality), MIDI and even MP3. The program can play any .wav file as a sample to be sequenced, and has built-in effects and support for Cubase and Cakewalk virtual instruments and effects plug-ins. External MIDI control is also supported.

Fruityloops, available at www.fruityloops.com, comes in two versions: Pro ($US49) and Full ($US99). The two versions do differ in features, but most of what is available can be tested using the demo version on this month's cover disc. We've also included the manual on the CD to save you downloading it. Upon registration, future upgrades are stated to be free for life and you gain access to download songs, plug-ins, updates and samples, and can enter the exchange forums. Fruityloops is only available for the PC. For a full review of the Full version, refer to May 2001 PC World, page 40, or you can search for it on the PC World Web site at pcworld.idg.com.au.

Note: in this, the first part of a two part Audio workshop on Fruityloops, it is hard to cover the various aspects of the program in the depth that each deserves. For this reason, I will only briefly touch upon certain areas for the moment, and will focus more on individual components and tools, such as sequencing, using the playlist and using plug-in instruments and effects next month.

GET FRUITY Once you've launched Fruityloops, click your way through the introductory screens. Press the key to bring up environment settings and then click the Wave tab. Make sure that the Output driver is Primary Sound Driver, then click the Directories tab. If you already have a collection of samples on your hard disk, click a yellow folder and browse to their location. This will allow these samples to appear in the Sample Browser. Now close the window.

Fruityloops has several important basic components. The top toolbar area is where you can play and stop your song/pattern, record knob movements and change tempo, among other tasks. The little orange LED lights next to the play button allow you to switch between song and pattern mode. For now, leave things set to pattern mode as we'll only be working on a single pattern in the Step Sequencer. Song mode is used for structuring your individual patterns together to form a song through the use of the Playlist, which I'll go into next month. This month we'll only look at very basic Step Sequencer functions. By default, your pattern will have 16 bars or steps. This can be changed to a maximum of 64 steps per pattern by going to Options-Song Settings and increasing the Bar Length.

YOUR FIRST TRACK Using the Sample Browser on the left side of the screen, you can look through samples; some come bundled with Fruityloops, and you can add your own as I've already described. Directories are coloured and the samples themselves are in light grey. Click once to hear a sample, then, if you like it, click on it and drag it from the Sample Browser to a channel on the Step Sequencer. Dragging a sample to a blank area at the bottom of the Step Sequencer will create a new channel. To add a new synthesiser to your Step Sequencer, go to Channels-Add one and select the TS404 (for example).

For practice, until next month's workshop, try doing the following: go to File-DrumKits-Basic TS404. This will load a preset DrumKit. Make sure you can see all 16 bars by resizing your Step Sequencer window. Each sample is located on its own channel. Right-click on the C_Kick sample and select "Fill each 4 steps". You'll see that the C_Kick sample channel will now have four lights representing when the sample is to be played. Note how the kick drum is at the start of both the red and grey sections. This colour scheming is customisable under song settings and is called the beat length - it's a visual aid for sequencing a pattern. Click Play and you should hear a basic 4/4 dance beat looping, albeit quite cheesy sounding. This is a good way to get your head around the way the program works.

Next, while still playing back what you've done so far, click the C_HH (hi hat) sample channel and plot three bars/steps in from the beginning of every beat length. This should give you the classic 'boom chi boom chi'-type generic dance sound. Try plotting the TS404 channel to add some synthesiser (synth) sounds. The wheels on the left of each channel are for volume and panning.

Experimentation is the name of the game, so until next month - keep at it.

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