fl-studio-logoFL Studio is an amazingly powerful music production tool, but its mixer can be confusing for a first time user. The major conceptual leap began in about version 5 when they moved away from a standard, hard-routed mixer to something more flexible. This flexibility is FL Studio’s greatest power – and its biggest stumbling block, particularly if you have experience using other apps like Cubase or (god forbid) Logic.

The first, and most fundamental thing you need to realise about the FL Studio mixer is that how it appears is always relative to which channel is currently selected. Let that idea sink in. I know from experience that I couldn’t use the mixer properly at all until I grasped that.

Let me put it another way.

In older versions of FL Studio, each channel on the mixer was hard-wired to come out of Master output. These days, Master out is still the default, but you now have the power to route any channel into any other channel at all, not just Master out. What’s more, you can route a channel to more than one output.

What? Why is that even useful?

Let me give you an example. Suppose you have a synth sound routed to channel 10. In another app, you’d be able to send it out of the Master output, or perhaps to a subgroup. In FL Studio, you can do both of those things simultaneously, while also feeding it (for example) into channel 12, where you have a vocoder plugin set up …

There is literally no limit to the insane routing schemes you can come up with, which is perhaps why people get confused – particularly when you look at how this wacky idea is implemented. It’s beautifully intuitive – once you see how it’s done. Until then, it’s as clear as mud.

Figure 1: The FL Studio Mixer

Figure 1: The FL Studio Mixer

1. Look at the screenshot Figure 1. It’s an empty mixer, and I have Insert 3 selected, with lovely noises coming out of it. “Insert” is what FL Studio likes to call channels.In particular, look at the highlighted portion at the bottom. Notice how each channel has a little grey icon of an upward pointing arrow? This is called the Track Send switch. Remember it for a moment.

The selected channel doesn’t get one, because it’s selected, and also because it’s impossible to route a channel into itself. Instead it gets a yellow downward pointing arrow to remind you that it is the selected channel.

Now, at this stage, the selected channel (Insert 3) is only routing out of the Master. Notice how the Master channel has a yellow Track Send switch and a knob? The yellowness means this the Track Send is enabled, and the Master channel is receiving signal from the selected channel. The knob controls how much.

Figure 2: Track Send Disabled

Figure 2: Track Send Disabled

2. As an example, I’m going to click the Track Send switch on the Master channel; this disables it, stopping Insert 3 pushing sound into it – see Figure 2.

Now Insert 3 doesn’t go anywhere, and any sound coming through it won’t be heard.

Notice that its level isn’t coming out of the Master any more.

Figure 3: New Track Sends Enabled

Figure 3: New Track Sends Enabled

3. In Figure 3, I’m clicking the Track Send switches for Inserts 5 and 6. Note that Insert 3 is still the selected channel. Because those icons are enabled (and are now yellow), sound from Insert 3 is going into both Insert 5 and Insert 6 – and I can control how much using the cool knobs that appear when I click the switches.

I’ve decided, for the sake of example, to send just a bit to Insert 5, and a lot more to Insert 6. You can see this from the positions of the knobs, and the corresponding signal levels in those channels.

And because 5 and 6 are (by default) routed through Master, Master has level again.

With me so far? Now, this next step is the critical bit to understanding the mixer.

Figure 5: New Channel Selected

Figure 5: New Channel Selected

4. In Figure 4, I’m going to select Insert 4 – just select it, not play with any track sending stuff. Just select.

See how, in terms of Track Sends, the mixer now looks almost exactly like it did in Figure 1? Ok, yes, there’s levels in 5 and 6 now because of what we did in the step 3, but otherwise, the knobs have all disappeared.

What happened? Well, it’s as I said in the beginning of this tutorial: How the FL Studio mixer appears is relative to which channel is currently selected. Currently Insert 4 is selected, which has only the default Master routing, so that’s all you see. If you go back and select Insert 3, you’ll see knobs on 5 and 6 again.

What you see is relative to what’s selected.

When you grasp that, you’ll suddenly appreciate how flexible and powerful the routing features of FL Studio’s mixer are.

Did this tutorial help you? Still have questions? Request a more specific tutorial here, or post a question in the comments area.