I suppose it strikes most people, at one time or another, that, in the course of listening to music, they think they could do as well or even better, or would like to try at least, if only they could play all those instruments. So, how can you put your creative mind to composing music without having to learn how to play (and get your hands on) all the instruments first? By using a Music Sequencer.
Music Sequencers have been around pretty much since computers were invented. Basically, what Music Sequencers do is allow you to place prerecorded samples of instruments, riffs, parts of songs or even vocals, in fact any prerecorded sound you can imagine, in the sequence that you want them played back, and then plays them back.
Though it might sound a little simple, and, in theory it is, if you then add the facility to add tracks so that more sounds can be played over each other, the ability to pre-compose loops of sounds, increase or decrease the beat and volume, then you can see how, with a musical ear and a little basic understanding how a sequencer works, almost anyone can compose something pretty listenable to. By the same token, anyone who already knows a little something about music composition and, perhaps has instruments already hooked up to their computer (though that isn’t necessary) and a good sequencer, can produce something of a professional standard. In fact, such is exactly what almost all musicians and recording studios do, and have done for ages.
Though there are many sequencers available, including some which are free and open source, but I would imagine that most people consider FL Studio (formally referred to as FruityLoops) to be the standard against which all others are compared.
A demo version of the latest FL Studio (10.0.8), is available, which, at some 220mb, includes the entire program, with some limited functionality, which, although it allows you to compose songs and save them, does not allow you to reopen them until you have paid for the program – and also for any plug-ins which the demo version contained (and which were used in any songs you composed), when you downloaded it (you can keep track of which plugins you use within the program). You can, however, save your compositions to Mp3 etc., so you can play them independently of the program on your favourite media player.
Once you have had an opportunity to play around with the demo program, you can choose which edition of it you wish to use and, with prices ranging from US$49 for the express edition to US$299 for the full “Signature” bundle, you have the option, perhaps, to start with a relatively cheap setup and upgrade if your needs dictate. Bear in mind that you may also have to pay for additional plug-ins you use, which are included in the download. The demo download itself includes the whole program, and the package you pay for unlocks the features for that package. Upgrading, therefore, should you wish to later, simply involves paying for the software key to unlock the features which your current package doesn’t allow.
The program itself, at a hefty 220mb, takes a little while to download from one of the download sites, but installation is simple enough. Upon running, the program interface presents a layout which is pretty familiar to anyone who has used or seen a music sequencer before. The interface consists of several areas – along the top is the menu and playback controls, down the left-hand side is the sample and plug-in list and the main part of the window is where the composition takes place. The interface itself is well designed and intuitive and, though it might look a little overwhelming to a beginner, once you have used the program a few times it does get easier.
The download also includes many samples of drums, guitars, keyboards etc, and the program also allows you to load additional samples or riffs you may have already, create yourself or find on the internet; putting them together to form your own riffs and loops is a lot of fun.
The range of features which FL Studio supports is quite staggering and includes (in some instances, depending on which version you buy), VSTi and DXi, MIDI, 99 tracks, automation and support for wav, mp3 and ogg output file types to name but a few. Many additional plug-ins, such as synthesizers, drum machines, and other instruments are available on the internet to download if you want to create your own unique sounds and, with FL Studio supporting al the standard formats, incorporating them in your songs is simple.
Unfortunately, it’s far beyond the scope of this review to go into detail regarding song composition; but the FL Studio website has copious quantities of help and information to guide you through choosing which version of the program your needs require, and to guide you through creating you first song, and additional help from experienced users is available through the program forums. Video tutorials also abound and you can find many songs which have been composed using FL Studio on video hosting websites, so you can see just what can be achieved with a little effort.
Overall, FL Studio is an excellent piece of software; a little daunting maybe, at first, as there really is an awful lot to get to grips with, although it shouldn’t be long before keen novices are running off their first tracks. FL Studio is well polished and very capable of producing professional results with some effort and practice.
If you’re looking to get into music creation, but don’t want the hassle, time and expense of learning to play all the necessary instruments, FL Studio may just well be the answer you are looking for, and with the download available so you to try it out free, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t; you never know, you might even have a top ten hit in you!
Can‘t be recommended highly enough.