Exploring FL Studio 4.0

The latest incarnation of FruityLoops sees the software music studio now dubbed FL Studio 4, a name change that reflects an expanded feature set and slight shift in focus. If you’re new to it, you may wish to search http://pcworld.idg.com.au for previous tutorials on navigating the interface of and using a MIDI keyboard with version 3. Mercifully, most functions still work in a familiar fashion, only with more features.

Pattern lengths

Tweaks to appearance aside, the step sequencing grid remains the primary loop creation interface, but it has new abilities. Click on a sample name and press -E and you’ll be presented with the new wave editor. Also, where previously all patterns had to have the same bar length (defined from Options-Song Settings), now each pattern can have an independent bar length. This can be adjusted by clicking on the pattern length box and dragging the mouse up or down to set a value.

Revamped playlist

To accommodate independent pattern lengths, a revamped ‘piano roll style’ playlist displaying accurate pattern lengths has been introduced. Simply use the left mouse button to paint into the playlist where you want that pattern to play back. Just like the step sequencer, right-clicking on a painted section removes the entry.

When you paint blocks into the playlist, by default they will be snapped into alignment with the background grid. You can change where a painted playlist block will be placed in relation to the grid by adjusting the global snap setting; options include Line (the default), ½ step and none. The latter allows you to move a painted block anywhere you like.

You can name patterns in the playlist by right-clicking on the title ‘pattern 1’ at the left of the playlist and entering a descriptive name for that pattern. You may wish to organise things further by clicking on the playlist menu and selecting Add time marker. Type in a name such as ‘chorus’, and a time marker will appear. You can then click on the left of the marker and drag it over the part of your playlist it describes.

These steps help keep work flow efficient and makes it easier to flesh out your song later.

Live Mode

Although it’s no Ableton Live (www.ableton.com), Live Mode allows you quickly to switch patterns on and off without painting them out in the playlist — useful for live situations or testing arrangements. With a few patterns already created and the Live Mode option on, you should see a new column at the far left of the playlist. Clicking once in this column next to a pattern name will make an orange icon appear, denoting that the pattern is set to loop indefinitely when you click the play button (or hit ). Do this with other patterns to have them play over the top. Left-clicking on the orange arrow will turn that pattern off, and right-clicking will bring up a blue 1 icon which makes the pattern play one more time before it will stop. You can also use a MIDI keyboard to control the on/off switching.

Note: if you want the patterns being looped live to sync, you may wish to adjust your snap setting to Line. If you want a pattern to start as soon as you select it, use the None snap setting.

Audio tracks

Another exciting development is the implementation of audio tracks. Left-click on the bottom half of the playlist window and you can import a wave file directly into the playlist. With the audio tracks vertical zoom button, you can adjust the display size of the waveform. The magnifying glass icon allows you to zoom in and out of the playlist, as does the zoom menu from inside the playlist menu. You can chop up audio clips using the playlist cut tool or split audio clips using FL Studio’s beat slicer engine for detailed re-arrangement. Chop an audio clip by clicking on its menu down arrow before going to chop into and selecting autodetect.

New plug-ins and mixer

Building on its existing sound generators, FL Studio 4 includes quite a few new ones, which are accessible from the Channels-Add one menu.

These include Fruityslicer (for slicing/re-arranging beat loops), Boobass (a Fender Bass simulator), Wave Traveller (a tool to move through waveforms for various effects such as scratching) and, particularly interesting, the Dashboard (which allows you to design your own interface for internal and MIDI controllers).

In addition to supporting VST and Direct X instruments and effects, FL Studio 4.0 can itself become a VST or DX client in other sequencer software such as Cubase.

Effects are applied to a sample using the new 68-track mixer (64 insert and four send tracks) supporting eight plug-ins per mixer channel. To route a sample to an effect channel, click on a channel name in the step sequencer and, in the resulting channel setting window, adjust the FX channel number to which the channel is being sent. The mixer caters for complex routing chains, channel names (just right-click on a channel number), volume and EQ adjustment, and much more.

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