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Introduction to FL Studio's Playlist

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In the last two tutorials we discussed FL Studio's Mixer and Piano Roll windows and how they play into the music creation process inside FL Studio. To tie everything together, today we are going to look at the Playlist window!

Think of the Playlist as the organic whole of your music; it is here that all of the individual elements from the Piano Roll and elsewhere are put together to actually make your song or track. From audio clips, to patterns, to automation, the playlist will be the center of any project. If you are ready to connect everything together then read on!


The Playlist Window

Before we can begin to look at the different fun features of the playlist we first need a good understanding of the playlist's layout and what the different sections do functionally. However it will not do you much good to hear me talk about the playlist if you do not know where to find it! Here are two simple ways to access the playlist inside FL Studio...

  • The easiest way to access the playlist is by pressing the shortcut F5. This will hide and show the playlist from its last location on the screen.
  • If you are more of a button person, simply click the piano roll icon on the tool bar at the top of the screen...

Now that we have the playlist window up and running, lets take a look at the different major sections on this window and get an idea of what they are all about...

  1. This is the playlists toolbar and is your toolbox for arranging your project. Many of the same tools inside the Piano Roll can be found here, but many tools are still different.
  2. This particular area is the heart and soul of the playlist window. Whenever you want to move a audio clip or change a pattern it is done here.
  3. The final big section of the Playlist is somewhat mixer oriented and somewhat track oriented. It is here that we can mute whole tracks and choose what information we want to see on the screen at any given time in the playlist.

Now that we have a bigger overview of the this window, lets delve deeper the working of the playlist...


A Closer Look

Since the playlist is all about arranging your song we should first look at the main part of the Playlist that lets us arrange! In this case that will be Section 2 from the previous image.

The most simplified look at this window is that we have a graph with Time on the x-axis and Tracks on the y-axis. Obviously like any DAW the song starts on the left and continues to the right just like our Piano Roll. However unlike almost every other DAW out there, you can put any pattern, clip, etc. into any track and it will all still playback properly. That is because the Mixer tracks and the Playlist tracks (FL calls them Clip Tracks) are completely separated where as in other DAWs they are completely entwined.

This allows you to work in any visual way you want. If you want to have the traditional approach with the drums, vocals, etc. all on their own track you can do that. However you can mix and match them so the most important part of the song at any given time is on the first track or some other scheme. The choice is yours!

However the drawback that you need to be careful of is that your Playlist window can get very messy if you are not organized. While on the topic of Playlist tracks we should also pay attention section three on the left hand side of the Playlist window.

Over here we have the actual Playlist track controls as well as some of the selection and view options for the Playlist window. Each track has its own name, color, and mute switch that are controlled from over here. These tracks mutes function different from the mixer track mutes in that they prevent the patterns, clips, etc. in that track from getting played in the first place; the mixer track mutes however only mute the audio after the pattern or clip was played.

This can be handy if say you want to listen to a track with the automation off; just mute the automation and it is off! If colors and naming are your thing then just right click a track and you can change both the color and the name of the tracks.

Above the tracks but below the toolbar you will find the Clip Focus tool. What these set up tabs do is let you select particular types of data inside the Playlist when they are stacked on top of one another. One tab is for patterns, one is for audio clips, and the last is for automation data. But why do we need this? Just like how we can arrange our patterns and clips in any track, we can also stack them on top of one another.

So for example our vocal automation could be sitting on top of the vocal audio clip itself. However, how would you select one or the other when they are on top of one another? The Clip Focus tool is the key, as whatever tab you have selected in the Clip Focus will determine whether you select a pattern, audio, or automation when they are stacked on top of one another.

Finally we come back to the Playlist's toolbar where all of the usual tools hide. Basic functions such as edit, quantize and the like were covered in the previous tutorial so I will not cover them here. Instead I will show you some of the tools specific to the Playlist that could be useful to you.

Under the Edit menu we have a few unique options for the playlist first both of which are good for consolidating clips into one large clip. The first called Merge Pattern Clips will merge any selected patterns into one pattern while the second called Merge Similar Pattern clips will merge all similar pattern across the entire Playlist. Finally if you right click a playlist track name you can access these menus as well.

If you are working with very predictable measure groupings like in pop, rock, club, etc. then these next tools would be good for you. If you need to delete and entire section and want the rest of the piece to shift over so you don't have a large empty gab you need the Delete Space tool or press ctrl+del. If however you need to add more space for a new section you simply need to select a given section of the appropriate length and hit ctrl+ins or use Insert Space to add an empty space the size of your selected section.

If you like having markers so you know where different sections are in your project then going to Edit > Time Markers tab will be of great benefit. You can add markers or use Alt+t and use these markers as either a reference or as playback controls. As playback controls you can create skip points that will skill over an entire section until it sees a new marker or you can setup loop points that when reached won't go straight back to the beginning. This system is useful if you plan on doing live remixes and the like.

If we move on down the toolbar we see the same controls as in the Piano Roll until we reached the Clip Source dropdown menu. This allows you to choose between different patterns and clips in a list format. The easier way to change between clips and patterns however is to simply click a pattern or clip inside the playlist and it automatically becomes set to your pencil or brush tool.

Finally here is a short list of additional commands that would be helpful for the Playlist...

  • Select by Source: Shift+C
  • Invert Selection: Shift+I
  • Group: Shift+G
  • Ungroup: Alt+G

Tips and Tricks

Here is present to you some hints and tricks for working inside the Playlist and hopefully your arranging will get a little bit easier because of it!

  • In the top left hand corner of any pattern you place inside the Playlist is a dropdown men. Here you can color code the pattern itself, choose and a new pattern to put in its place, etc. My favorite tool however is Make Unique which will turn the pattern or clip into its own pattern or clip. Why? Because if you are slicing and editing a vocal a ton you can just hit Make Unique and boom you have a brand new audio clip of your edited vocal which is really handy if you need to move it anywhere!
  • Under Edit > View is an option for a Precise Time Indicator which will add a white line underneath your playback head for a better indication of where exactly your play head is at.
  • For various zoom controls you can zoom horizontally with ctrl+mouse wheel, vertically with alt+mouse wheel, and use number keys 1-5 for various zoom presets.
  • If you need to nudge a clip ever so slightly hold down ctrl and move the mouse wheel and your clip will move by the smallest possible increments; useful for lining up audio clips.
  • By default FL Studio only lets you resize a clip from the right which can get a little annoying at times. The work around? Ctrl+home.

Conclusion

So what have we learned? FL Studio's Playlist window is very full featured and designed to make your life easier. Just remember that Playlist tracks (clip tracks) and the Mixer tracks are very much separated from each other and everything else will be a piece of cake. Thanks for reading!

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