This tutorial was requested by Jesus Prieto from USA Indie. If you have questions about how to do something in FL Studio (or anything production related, actually), you can request a tutorial here.
fl-studio-logoMost people don’t instantly think of FL Studio as an audio recording platform because – like everything else about FL – it has a unique way of doing things. If you’re locked into the psychology of fixed tracks and channels the way most sequencers are, then the huge flexibility available in FL Studio can seem confusing.
But it’s actually pretty simple. In FL Studio, audio is handled just the same way that MIDI data is: in clips.

Understanding the Difference

To record audio a sequencer like Cubase or Logic, you would set up an audio track. You’d then record some sounds like your voice into it, and that audio would appear in the arrangement page of the song.
In these sequencers, the audio is tied to that track. Moving it elsewhere either creates a new audio track to host it or causes it to play out of a different output, because tracks are tied to mixer channels.
But in FL, you use any arbitrary Mixer channel to record audio, and the recorded audio automatically becomes a clip. The clips themselves are linked to mixer channels: where they appear on the playlist has no bearing on the mixer.
You can move them up and down, slice them up, use bits of them, slide them around, and they’ll still play out of whatever mixer channel the original clip is set to play out of.
This is an incredibly powerful feature, but it confuses some people because they’re used to using audio tracks as some sort of dumping ground during recording sessions.

Let’s take it from the top.

Preparing to record

Let’s suppose that you have a song you’ve been working on in FL Studio, and you’d like to record your vocals on top of it.
Obviously, for this to work, you need a microphone plugged into your soundcard. If you’re using a built in soundcard, you may need to go into the Windows Volume Control and make sure Microphone is selected under your recording settings.
Next, make sure you’re using ASIO drivers – see the box at the bottom of this article for more info.
Latency is key when recording audio – you need to set it as low as you possibly can without causing a million under runs. This is because you will want to be listening back to yourself while you sing, and if your buffer length is set higher than about 512 samples (12ms), you’ll hear a noticeable delay between when you sing into the mic and when that audio arrives in your headphones. It’s weird and it’ll throw you off.

Tuning Up the ASIO Driver

Figure 1 - ASIO properties

Figure 1 - ASIO settings

Click Options > Audio Settings (or hit F10, it’s faster), and have a look at your ASIO Properties. In figure 1, you’ll notice the buffer size is currently set to 512 (barely acceptable), and at this rate we’ve had only 8 underruns since the project opened. This is OK.
Underruns occur when the ASIO performance is pushed too far, and they result in audible glitching if they happen during playback. Getting some underruns while you fiddle with system settings is normal, but what we’re aiming for here is to tune things as close to the edge as possible without getting underruns while we’re working later.
You need to set your buffer size to as small as you can get it without the underruns count spinning up like a fan. Click the Show ASIO panel button to open your sound card’s panel, and lower the buffer size.
Figure 2: ASIO properties 2

Figure 2: Better ASIO properties

Now, the act of lowering the buffer size will in and of itself cause underruns. So expect a bigger number when you get back out of the ASIO panel.
What is crucial is that the number shouldn’t still be going up like a demented odometer as you look at it. If it is, you’ve gone too small – go back and increase your buffer size. Increasing underruns means audible glitching during playback.
In my case, I was able to get it down to 128 samples (3ms). My underruns now sit at 66, but they’re stable – not going up further. If you play your song back and you can hear glitching, go back and increase your buffer size.

If your song is big and complex with lots of plugins, you might do better to mix it down (export it) to a single wav file and start a new project based on that mixdown. That way, the computer won’t have to handle running all your soft synths and plugins while simultaneously trying to operate under extreme low latency settings.
When you’re done recording, you can always import the new audio into the original project. A lot of professionals use this trick when their arrangements get out of hand, or when they use too many instances of Sytrus at once.

Mic Check One Two

When you’re happy with your latency settings, we’re ready to begin. Open the FL Mixer (the shortcut is F9), and choose an empty, unused channel.

Figure 3: The disk button

Figure 3: The disk button

The first thing we need to do is specify a name for the audio we’re going to record. Now, down at the bottom of each mixer channel is a grey icon that looks like an old style disk from back in the day. Click it.
Figure 4: A boring Save window

Figure 4: A boring Save window

A standard Windows file saving dialogue window pops up letting you specify the base name of the recording you’re about to make. By default, it’ll put the resulting wav files in FL’s default folder for recordings, but for your sanity it’s probably best to choose the folder that the rest of your song is living in.
Give the recording a name and click Save.
Figure 5: Select an input from the IN dropdown box

Figure 5: Select an input from the IN dropdown box

IMPORTANT: for this next step, either switch to headphones (recommended) or turn your speakers right down. We’re about to enable the microphone, and it’s quite possible to cause a feedback loop that can blow out your cones. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you ever point the mic at one of your monitor speakers.
Next, we need to specify where we’re recording from: which sound card input FL Studio should be listening to.
Keeping our record channel selected, look in the top right of the mixer, where the Insert effects are. There’s a dropdown box labelled IN. Drop it down and select your microphone input from the list of options available.
Since a microphone is a mono recording source, I’ve chosen a mono (single channel) input. This is important because there’s no point recording mono audio into a stereo wav file. Of course it works, but it’s a waste of space.
As soon as you’ve chosen your input, you should be able to hear yourself in your headphones or over the speakers. I strongly recommend switching to headphone monitoring at this point to avoid feedback loops, but also because you don’t want the backtrack of your song to appear in the vocal recording.
If you want to turn the microphone off again, select (none) from the IN dropdown box list.
Note: you can also add some insert effects such as Reverb to the channel if you’d like to hear effects on your voice while recording. This is lots of fun, but be warned that the effect will be hard recorded into the wav file along with your voice. You won’t be able to remove it later. Not a good idea.
Figure 6: Click Record

Figure 6: Click Record

We can now begin recording. Clear your throat, sip something strong, whatever you need to do. When you’re ready, click the record button.
Figure 7: What would you like to do today?

Figure 7: What would you like to do today?

Now, a Recording dialogue window pops up asking you what and how you’d like to record. What you choose here depends on your personal style.
The default option is to record into an Edison instance. The upside of doing this is that you can perform edits on the resulting audio right away, and when you’re done editing, you can insert the audio into the playlist as a clip by pressing SHIFT-C.
It’s an advanced method of working, but you’ll probably want to hear the recording in context straight away. So I suggest selecting Audio, into the playlist as an audio clip.
As soon as you’ve made your choice, recording begins. You’ll be able to hear the track in your headphones, and you’ll be able to hear yourself sing … or rap or whatever.
When you’re done, click Stop. Also, click the Record button again to deactivate record mode, or you’ll just start recording new clips every time you press Play.
A new audio clip will have been inserted into the playlist containing your recording. You can now safely add effects to it.

And you’re done!

An Afterword

The method I’ve described above (ie selecting Audio, into the playlist as an audio clip) provides the most instant gratification. You get where you’re going fast, and you can instantly hear if it’s working or not.
It isn’t, however, the most efficient method of working. This is because every time you record, you get a new audio clip.

ASIO drivers
ASIO drivers enable very low latency usage of an audio interface. If you’re just starting to learn this stuff, latency is the delay between moving a knob on screen and hearing the effect of what you’ve done. It’s the delay between hitting a key on your keyboard and and hearing the note come out of your speakers.
ASIO drivers make it possible to do these things in real time with almost no discernible delay. If you’re using a dedicated audio interface, it’s 99% likely that you’ll already have ASIO drivers installed.
If, however, you’re using whatever soundcard came inside your PC or laptop, you may need to install a generic ASIO driver.
I recommend ASIO4All, a fantastic driver that makes music possible for millions of laptop users around the world.

Very few of us are fantastic performers. Your may in fact suck. And if you’re recording straight to clips, you can quickly wind up with like 100 different clips, all of which suck.
This is why recording to Edison is technically better, even though it’s more fiddly: because you can toss the recording without ever saving it or inserting it into the project, both of which happen automatically with the process described above.
Having said that, and despite the fact that I love FL Studio dearly, I don’t recommend using it for serious vocal recording sessions. It’s totally possible, but it’s a pain.
The way that Cubase and Logic work (dedicated audio track) is by far inferior in terms of flexibility, but they are (in my humble opinion) much faster for this specific purpose.

My own process is:

  • compose in FL Studio, and export to WAV
  • import WAV into Cubase and record vocals
  • edit vocals in Cubase, and export them to WAV
  • import the WAV back into FL Studio as a clip, and finish the mix

Your mileage may vary.