image01If you read my tutorial on Routing in FL Studio, you’ve got a grasp on how FL’s channels automagically plug into each other. In this tutorial, I’m going to take a look at how to set up your FL Mixer for a good solid mix, and then save it as a template.

It’s about skipping the boring stuff

How many times have you started working on a tune – either born of idle fiddling, or when you were struck with an inspiration – that subsequently spiralled out of control. Synths everywhere, who knows how many plugins all over the place, and no coherent structure. Sure, it sounds fantastic, but eventually the track is “done” – and you’ve got to think about mixing it.
Suddenly there’s a huge job waiting in the form of clean up, and getting the track in a fit state to mix. Deciphering the wirings of what the heck you were up to at 3AM with most of a bottle of scotch in you can be soul destroying work – and it’s totally unnecessary.
The trick is to set the mixer up in advance, and save all the beautiful settings to a template. That way, when you next get that stab of majestic inspiration down the pub, you can just start from the template, and everything is already set up and ready for you.

Basic FX

See? No dry signal.

See? No dry signal.

OK, over on the right hand side of the mixer are 4 dedicated FX channels – they’re the four with the letters SND at the top instead of INS, and they have little FX icons. Considering that in FL 8, any channel can send to any other channel, they’re actually a bit of a throwback from earlier incarnations of FL Studio.

But they’re still useful today, because you can use them to host a couple of basic FX that you will almost always use in a mix: Reverb and Delay.
Pick lightweight versions of these to insert in the first two SND channels. I’ve chosen to use the standard FL versions (Fruity Reeverb and Fruity Delay 2), as they’re reasonably decent and they have a tiny CPU footprint, but you can use any FX you like. Once inserted here, all other channels will be able to share these FX by routing some signal into the SND channels.

Remember, you will also need to tweak the plugins themselves so that their signal output contains pure effect – no dry signal at all. This is because you’re using the plugins as Send effects rather than Insert effects. The output of the FX plugins must contain no Dry signal, or you’ll get weird phasing going on.
Feel free to put any effects that you use regularly into SND 3 and SND 4 – but remember, you have to kill any dry signal the plugin of your choice might be putting out. Not all plugins will have a handy Dry knob – it might be implemented as a knob labelled Mix, in which case, all the way to the right, please.

Subgroups

FL Studio doesn’t implement subgroups as you’d find on a real world mixer – it doesn’t need to. However, I find subgroups to be extremely handy because they help you to organise the sounds in your mix and they allow you to apply processes over a group of sounds.
In short, they let you get where you’re going faster.
But we’ll need to make our own. So, set up the first group of INS channels as subgroups. Label them, and give them colours. If you like, even assign them icons. This is what my default FL mixer looks like:

Check it out: subgroups

Check it out: subgroups


Now, the concept here is that, as we add synths and assign them to channels, we’ll route those channels through into these subgroups instead of the Master out. Why? Because it helps keep things organised, not just visually, but sonically.
Different kinds of sounds need to be treated in different kinds of ways, and clumping them together in subgroups means you can treat all similar sounds together.
All guitars up. A little more treble on all the leads. Shave the bottom end off all the pads. Compress all the bass sounds. You get the idea. You’ll notice that I even have a dedicated subgroup for sidechain compression.
Using subgroups allows you to do things with groups of sounds that you’d otherwise have to do to them all individually.

Favourite Synths

Everyone has favourite synths that they use every time they work on a track – personally, I am in love with Battery. It’s got 16 outs, though, and although you could just punt it all out of a single stereo pair, you really want them mapped to individual channels for the mix control that this offers … which is a pain to set up every time you load it up.
So I include a Battery in my standard template. All 16 outs mapped to channels, and each of those routed into the Drums subgroup we created in the previous step.
Since it’s part of the template, I never have to worry about routing it because it’s just done for me every time I start a new song.
Starting to see the benefit of this?
So, add the synths that you always use, and map them to the relevant subgroups now.

The Master Channel

My master FX. I know, they're all turned off.

My master FX. I know, they're all turned off.


In the master channel, you’ll want to insert the effect plugins that you will use for the final touches to your track. What you use is up to you, but personally, I have a chain of plugins that I always use on the master out of a track, because I tend to master right in the sequencer.
First, a compressor to hold the mix together. Then, an equaliser for those last final touches. And finally, a limiter to get the level up. Your personal process may vary.
Remember to de-activate all of these plugins. This template we are creating is intended as the starting point of a new track, so it shouldn’t have any mastering plugins turned on that will affect the sounds as you’re building the track. You’ll turn them on later as you need them.

Creating the template

Click File – Save As.
Now, within your Projects folder there’s a subfolder called Templates. If you navigate inside it, you’ll find a whole host of subfolders – these contain the options that appear when you choose the New from template option to start a track.
In the Power User subfolder, create a new folder called Standard Mix (or whatever you’d like). In this folder, save your project as Standard Mix.flp. It needs to be the same name as the folder.
Now, quit and exit FL Studio. When you restart it, if you select File – New from template, you’ll find your new template under Power User.
Select it, and presto! You’re set up and ready to start a new track, with all the boring prep work done for you.

In Conclusion

Using templates means you start writing music faster because all the preliminary fiddling has already been done. So whether you’re sitting down to work with a client, or whether you’re staggering in from a party with an idea in your head, you can get straight to work without having to bother with the setup stuff.