Getting started with FL Studio: everything you need to know
The DAW previously known as FruityLoops has grown substantially over its 20+ year lifespan. In its early days, it was known for its ease of use. Compared to some of the dense and complex DAWs of the time, FruityLoops was incredibly approachable, falling into a space somewhere between music sequencer and video game.
This early simplicity has had a lasting effect on how FruityLoops – or FL Studio, as it’s been known since 2003 – is seen by the wider world. Detractors have a tendency to label it as a plaything. If this was ever true, it’s certainly not been the case for a while. In 2022, FL Studio is packed with functionality and a flexible crop of native instruments and effects.
What is true is that FL Studio is a little different in-use than some other DAWs. There’s a heavy emphasis on pattern generation and sequencing track elements like building blocks. It’s probably this approach that has given FL such a high standing in the US EDM and hip-hop worlds, where a loop-centric approach prevails. Like Reason, FL Studio is doubly useful as a second DAW, as it can run as a VST or AU plugin, as well as a standalone program. Oh, and it’s not just PC-only these days – since FL Studio 20 arrived in 2019, Mac users have been able to get in on the action too.
One of the best things about FL Studio is that Image-Line offers free lifetime updates for the DAW. This means that once you purchase, you’ll be able to update to the latest versions as they are released for no extra charge. Core features and plugins are added with every update, so you’ll be enjoying new sounds and new functionality with every update, absolutely free.
WHICH VERSION OF FL STUDIO DO I NEED?
FL Studio is available in four different versions: Fruity, Producer, Signature and All Plugins Bundle. The price of FL Studio depends on which version you choose. At the most affordable end of the spectrum, the Fruity Edition offers a stripped-down version with core functionality for an impressive $99/$76. You’d certainly be able to get going putting together some basic beats with this version, but with no audio clips or recording, your abilities are pretty limited.
Coming in at $199/£153, the Producer Edition is described as an “all-in-one” virtual studio, complete with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a full-featured DAW and 6 of FL Studio’s native plugins. This is the most obvious choice for anyone looking to get acquainted with FL Studio who doesn’t need some of the more advanced functionality offered by the pricier editions. The Producer Edition offers 89 instruments and effects, as opposed to the Fruity Edition’s total of 83.
Moving up from there, we have the Signature Bundle, and the All Plugins Bundle, at $299/£230 and $399/£369 respectively. The Signature Bundle ups your game with 13 more p
lugins than the Fruity Edition, and 7 more than the Producer Edition. These include the Direct Wave Sampler Instrument, Hardcore Virtual Pedalboard, Newtone Pitch-Correction Editor, Harmless Additive Synthesizer, Gross Beat and Pitcher, a pitch-shifting effect.
FL Studio’s All Plugins Bundle brings you every single plugin they’ve developed for FL Studio that’s available at the time of purchase. Delivering 107 instruments and effects, it’s a great choice for those with a little extra cash to burn that are curious to sample more advanced synths like Morphine and Ogun, and take advantage of effects like FL Studio’s Vintage Chorus and Transient Processor. This does not include plugins released after the date of purchase, though the bundle can be updated at a reduced cost.
IS FL STUDIO FREE?
If you’re looking to sample the DAW’s capabilities and see if it’s right for you, Image-Line offers a free trial of FL Studio 20 that’s unlimited in duration. The trial version is functionally equivalent to the All Plugins Bundle, so it’ll give you a taste of what the most full-featured version of the software can do.
The key limitation is that once projects are saved, you won’t be able to reopen them until FL Studio is purchased. If you use a plugin within the project that belongs to one of the more expensive editions, you’ll need to purchase that edition or purchase the plugin individually to reopen the project and use the same functionality. One more thing to note is that while using the trial edition, it’s possible to export to .wav and .mp3, so you can use the free version to create stems for use in other projects or DAWs.
WHAT’S NEW IN THE LATEST VERSION OF FL STUDIO?
FL Studio released FL Studio 20 in 2018. Bringing the DAW over to Mac for the first time, the update expanded the software’s Playlist section (this is what the timeline is called in FL Studio) with the ability to work on multiple Arrangements simultaneously, bolstered the number of available tracks from 199 to 500, and added flexible consolidation capabilities that provide users with several options for bouncing instruments or samples down to audio files.
Since the release of FL Studio 20, Image-Line has released several significant point updates, the most recent being FL Studio 20.9. This version added enhanced Apple Silicon support, a revamped Automation Clip Editor, and two new effects, the Pitch Shifter and Vintage Chorus. Find out more below.
WHERE CAN I BUY FL STUDIO?
The best place to buy FL Studio is directly from Image-Line’s website. It’s also available from third-party retailers such as Thomann and Amazon. Currently Image-Line do not offer payment plans for producers to purchase the software in instalments, though some resellers like Sweetwater do offer this option.
WHAT ABOUT FL STUDIO MOBILE?
HOW DO I DOWNLOAD AND INSTALL FL STUDIO?
Before downloading and installing FL Studio, you’ll need to authorize the product. To do that, you should log in to your Image-Line account. If you don’t have one already, you can create an account here.
Once you’ve logged in and navigated to your account home page, select Unlock Products, open up the Register Boxes and Plugins Serials section, then enter the FL Studio serial number you received following purchase. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the authorization process.
Once you’ve authorized, you’ll be able to download and install FL Studio. Head to the download page and identify the correct installer file for your OS. (If you’ve already got the demo version installed, skip the next step!) Open up your Downloads folder, double-click the .dmg file (Mac) or .exe file (PC) and follow the instructions on-screen.
Now, launch FL Studio, select Help, then click About. Enter your login details, then select Unlock With Account. Finally, restart the program. If you need to unlock FL Studio without an internet connection, you’ll need to download and install a new registry key.
GETTING STARTED WITH FL STUDIO
WHICH PRODUCERS USE FL STUDIO?
Tons of big-name producers use FL Studio, including Martin Garrix, Porter Robinson, Deadmau5, Murda Beatz and 9th Wonder. It’s particularly popular with hip-hop and EDM artists who favour its loop-based approach and intuitive interface. Here’s a selection of producers we’ve interviewed in the past that use FL Studio as their primary DAW.
“I’m proficient at most DAWs but I think FL Studio is objectively the most advanced. It’s underrated and has features that are unmatched. When I use Ableton I sometimes have to call friends and ask them how to do something I’d normally do in FL, but most of them say Ableton can’t do it.
“I’m clearly a fanboy, but I don’t think anybody should change their DAW if they’re comfortable using it to get their ideas out there. It’s like an extension of my brain and I’ve been using it for several hours every day since I was 10.”
“By 2001 my family had bought a PC and I quickly downloaded a demo of FL Studio, or Fruity Loops as it was known back then. I was able to hit the ground running and started obsessively making my own tunes straight away. Happy to say I’m still using FL Studio as the main brain of my studio all these years later.
“I would say that a great deal of what I always use when I’m working on tunes are the FL stock plugins. You could take everything away from me but the laptop and I’m confident I could make interesting music quite happily for the rest of my life.”
Digital Farm Animals (producer for Dua Lipa, Charli XCX, Louis Tomlinson)
WHEN IS FL STUDIO 21 COMING OUT?
WHERE CAN I GET FREE PLUGINS FOR FL STUDIO?
Depending on which version of FL Studio 20 you purchase, you’ll receive a number of powerful native plugins that you can get started with straight away. There’s a varied range on offer, and it’s certainly worth getting acquainted with the DAW’s native plugins before looking elsewhere.
Once you’ve learned the ropes, if you’re looking for free VST plugins for FL Studio that’ll further expand your sonic palette, head over to our survey of the best free plugins and best free synth plugins available in 2022, or keep an eye out for our monthly round-ups of free music-making software.
WHERE CAN I GET FREE SAMPLES FOR FL STUDIO?
Like many DAWs, FL Studio comes with a limited selection of free loops and drum packs. Those wishing to expand their sample library can browse Image-Line’s online store to purchase curated bundles of samples, browse the web for other sample retailers, or sign up to sample subscription services, like Splice.
Those on the hunt for free music samples can also head over to SampleRadar, an archive of over 75,000 royalty-free samples that we’ve been working on for over a decade.