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An Introduction to FL Studio's Mixer

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You heard of FL Studio and how it is an awesome sequencing program so you decided to take the plunge and buy it. You fire it up and realize, "I have no idea where anything is or how it works." Well thankfully for you my friend we are going to cover the FL Studio's mixer from head to toe and to operate it with lightning speed! If you are ready to get mixing then dive on in!


The Mixer Window

Before we can begin to tackle the ins and outs of the mixer (literally), we first need a good understanding of the mixer's layout and how the different sections function. What we need is a map. However, a map doesn't do us much good if we don't know where to find it in the first place! Here are two simple ways to access the mixer inside FL Studio...

  • The easiest way to access the mixer is by pressing the shortcut F9. This will hide and show the mixer from its last location on the screen.
  • If you are more of a button person, simply click the mixer icon on the tool bar at the top of the screen.

Now that we have the mixer window available to use, lets briefly analyze the different major sections and get an idea of what they are all about...

  1. This is your master channel for FL Studio. Ultimately, all of your audio that you will pass through this fader before going to your speakers or headphones.
  2. These are your general workhorse channels inside FL Studio. Each of your instruments, synths, samples, etc. will most likely pass through one of these tracks. While I am only showing a few here, you can have up to 99 of these tracks in a given project.
  3. These are your auxiliary send tracks inside FL Studio. These tracks function almost exactly the same as your standard tracks except that they are meant specifically for either FX processing or additional audio outputs. Why you ask? One such example would be a reverb channel for your whole mix instead of having the same plugin on every single channel.
  4. This final section sort of the dynamic area of FL Studio's mixer. As you select different channels this section will reflect more information about that channel such as effects, larger peak meter, etc.

With these larger sections in mind, lets delve deeper the working of the mixer.


Channel Features

What is nice about just any mixer is that once you understand how one channel works, you understand how they all work! Lets look at each function in a given channel and what it is they do...

  1. This is your generic mixer channel which has various tools to help you when you mix. Starting at the top we have a peak meter for volume, followed by a pan control; so far pretty generic. Next we have a mute switch represent by the little green light. However keep in mind while most DAWs have the mutes light up when active, FL Studio mutes are when the green light is off; think of it light a disarm more than a mute.

    Continuing down the line we have the volume fader, a stereo separation knob, phase invert, and stereo swap. The stereo separation knob can be used to either completely remove the center from your stereo image or to make the channel true mono. The phase invert and stereo swap obviously do as the names suggest.

    Finally at the bottom we have a few icons with one labeled FX, another showing a clock, and another a floppy disk. The FX icon when clicked on or off will turn off or on all the effects for that particular channel at once; this is useful if you want to temporarily disengage an entire FX chain. The clock icon will activate the delay compensation for that channel and finally the disk icon will arm that particular channel for audio recording.

  2. The IN section of your channel will choose which audio input from your sound card/interface you wish to record from if you are using microphones. You can choose either stereo inputs (say microphone 1 and 2) or simple mono inputs. The dialog will reflect the options available to your particular sound card/interface.
  3. These are your FX inserts for your selected channel. Simply clicking on the pull down box will reveal all the plugins you currently have loaded into FL Studio. At the end of each insert you have again the mute light with the addition of a mix knob. This knob will allow you to blend your FX with the original signal before going on to the next FX insert.
  4. Here we have a admittedly redundant section in FL Studios mixer. Aside from the nice addition of a parametric EQ we have the exact same controls as we did in section 1. The stereo separation, pan, phase, swap, delay compensation and channel gain controls are all here and if you move them here you will seem them move in section 1 as well.
  5. Finally we come to the output section of our selected channel. Usually this section is set to (none) in which case it will output to the master channel. However say your channel was meant to be a headphone send to an additional output on your interface, you could send it from here.

Hopefully now you have a much better grasp over what the functions of the mixer are and where they are located. However that is only half the battle as you now need to find a way to actually bring in a sound source to a mixer track. Lets look at how to do this as well as look at some internal routing quirks that FL Studio's mixer has.


Mixer Routing

First and foremost we will need an audio source to route into our mixer. In FL Studio there are common two ways you can achieve this. Lets take a look at these two methods for routing audio into the mixer.

  • The quickest and flashiest method is to use the plugin picker to select your synth. To do this either click your center mouse button or press CTRL+F8 and you should see all your available plugins appear before you. Next simply select the plugin you wish and drop it on a mixer track. This will then assign the synth to that particular mixer track as well as rename it and color the track.

  • Your alternate method is to manually load the synth and assign it to a channel. To do this, go to the step sequencer menu and right click one of the samplers, synths, etc. and select either insert or replace. From here you can choose your synth.

When you do this your synth should automatically feed itself into the master channel which of course is not what we want. To assign it to a different channel click the synth and you should see both the synth and a separate dialog box called Channel settings appear. In the top left corner there is a routing box labeled 'FX'. Simply click and drag this box to choose between the various mixer tracks. Note however that the mixer tracks do not change name or color when you use this method so keep in mind where you are routing your audio to!

Now that we have our synth successfully routed into the mixer we can look at some of the internal routing in the mixer. As with the other feature of the mixer, once you understand how this works on one channel you can apply it to all the channels. So with that in mind let?s first see how exactly our mixer track is going to the master channel.

Select your synths mixer track and take note of the small downward yellow arrow towards the bottom of the channel. This indicates that the channel output is being sent somewhere inside the mixer. If you would then look over at your master channel (without unselecting your synth track!) you will see an upward yellow arrow with a gain knob. This is where your mixer track is being sent to and the gain knob controls how much of the signal is being passed on. If you have ever used an aux send in another DAW this is essentially the same function.

Generally speaking you will always want your tracks to send to the master channel except in cases where you want to send multiple tracks to a buss before they go onto the master. For the sake of example let's see how we would buss multiple tracks to one track before going to the master.

  • With your synth track still selected you will notice the Send1,2,3,4 tracks also have gain knobs.
  • Turn off the master send gain (click the yellow arrow in the master channel) and turn up your synth tracks gain knob into Send1

What you essentially are doing is sending the output of your synth track to Send1, and then Send1 will go to the master channel. You might yourself be asking, "But why?" Well think of it this way. Say you have all your different drums each on their own separate track and your drum mix is perfect; except for the fact that it is too loud. Do you want to risk manually turning down every drum track proportionally? Or would you rather turn down your Drum Buss fader on Send1, which in turn will turn down the overall volume of every drum while leaving your drum mix itself untouched? Sounding pretty good right now isn't it?

Finally lets look at one last related feature called side chaining. Side chaining a process by which we use one channels audio to control another channels plugins. If you have ever heard the pumping effect in a trance track then you have heard someone use side chaining. I won't dive into specifics, but if you want a plugin to recognize another mixer track for a side chain here is what you do...

  • Select the track you wish to control the side chain plugin (our synth track for example).
  • Activate the send from your synth track into the channel with the side chaining plugin. To do this simply click the grayed out upward arrow on the destination track.
  • Next turn the gain knob on the destination track all the way to 0.

Now at first glance this may seem a little strange, especially if you are coming from a DAW such as Pro Tools. Essentially what we are doing is sending our track to another channel like normal, but we are turning the volume down to 0. In FL Studio, when the send gain is at 0 it treats it as a side chain instead. From here you should be able to select your Synth track inside a side chain plugin. Like I said earlier FL Studio has some odd quirks and this is by far one of the more prevalent ones.


Conclusion

So what have we learned? FL Studio's mixer has a handy set of tools that are available on every track inside the mixer. The mixer does have some odd quirks on how it handles internal routing but it isn't anything too far out of left field. Before I leave you I want to give you some general shortcuts particular to the mixer that may come in handy...

  • Alt + Left/Right - Moves the selected track, plugins, and routing either left or right by one track. Handy for reorganizing your mixer as your project gets more dense.
  • CTRL + L - Links your selected synth, sample, etc. to the selected mixer track. Avoids having to use the Channel Settings window.
  • F2 - Change selected tracks name and color.
  • S - Solo currently selected track.

Again I hope you can now easily navigate FL Studio's mixer and will never have to worry about those things again. Thanks for reading!

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