FL Studio tutorial explaining automation
Automation is the automatic moving of controls in FL Studio – such as the channel volume knob - based on automation clips or automation events. It is like someone turns FL Studio’s knobs while you play your song.
To understand the relation between an automation clip/event and a control, see the simple illustration below. The upper part is the automation clip which varies in time (check points 1,2 and 3). If this automation clip would be linked to the volume knob, the knob will turn corresponding to the automation clip (see point 1,2 and 3).
You may wonder why you would use such a feature. Simply put, the opposite of a boring, dull trance composition is a song with variety, variety, variety and automation is one way to achieve variety. This article will explain you the basics of automation (advanced topics will follow, I promise).
First of all, in FL Studio we distinguish between automation clips and automation events. Automation clip are specific type of generators and are loaded into channels (just like your instruments). They can exist independent of a pattern. Automation events on the other hand are bound to patterns and do not exist independently. This will become more clear further down the article.
There are several ways to create automation clips. The easiest way is to right-click on the control you wish to automate and then choose ‘Create automation clip’. See the below screenshot where I create an automation clip for the channel volume control (Trance lead channel):
Note that this method can only be used for native FL Studio controls. For controls on VST plugins you can first manually tweak the control you want to automate and then select Last tweaked parameter | Create automation clip from the Fruity Wrapper menu. See below for an example with the Nexus plugin:
Regardless whether you automate a native control or one on a VST plugin, the result is the same: An automation clip is created for the control in question (it is already linked to the control) in the upper part of the playlist view (where all clip tracks are placed). See below:
An automation clip created in this way spans the entire length of your playlist. In the example above, I have not yet begun to place any pattern blocks and the automation clip therefore assumes the default length. However, I can now start to manipulate the clip. See the screenshot below:
Initially, the automation clip only has one (last) control point. To increase the length of the clip, simply left-click it and drag to the right. Release the mouse button when done. Make sure that you have selected the middle focus button and checked Slide and unchecked Step (see picture above).
To give the clip a shape, add control points. To add a control point hold down the Ctrl-key and move your mouse pointer to the position where you want to add a control point. The mouse pointer changes and shows a plus (+). Then, left-click and voila, you have an new control point. You can ‘pick up’ control points by moving over them (the mouse pointer changes into a hand), holding down the left mouse button and dragging the point to another position. Release the mouse button when you are done.
To change the shape of the spline between to control points, use the tension handle. Simpy left click a tension handle and move your mouse up or down (holding the mouse button down). Release the mouse button when you are done.
To remove a control point, right-click it and choose Delete in the menu. Also, experiment a bit with the menu options Single Curve, Double Curve, Hold, Stairs and Smooth Stairs. You will see you can manipulate the shape of the spline ending in the selected control point by using these options.
Make sure to play around a bit and create various shapes. Being able to create clips precisely the way you want it will defintely benefit you further down the road.
Now, listen to the way the automation clip influences the Trance lead sound.
Ok, not very spectacular, I admit. However, this is so fundamental that – once you have learned how to use it – you will wonder how you ever could have lived without it.
Automation Clip Presets
FL Studio comes with a number of automation clip presets that I suggest you check out. You find them in the Browser view (F8) under Channel Presets, Automation Clips. See below:
You can simply drag and drop them into the playlist (the same place where our own automation clip is located). See the screenshot below:
I’ve dropped BasicGate1 from presets into the playlist. Note that I have zoomed in a bit to make it a bit easier to work with the short clip. Zooming in and out can be done using the Zoom time control in the upper right corner of the playlist. See below:
Left click the zoom time control and move the mouse up or down to zoom in or out.
Subsequently I sequenced the same clip to match the length of my playlist. See below (note that I zoomed out again):
The easiest way to achieve this is to use the Paint button. Make sure it is selected and then simply ‘draw’ the clips by left clicking and moving the mouse pointer to the right.
OK, so now we have made a nice sequence of a predefined automation clip. Bit how can we use it? The difference with this clip is that it has not yet been linked to a controller. When we made our own automation clip it was automatically linked when we chose ‘Create automation clip’ – so we did not have to consider this.
To link an automation clip to the channel volume knob (of our Lead trance channel), right click the knob and choose Link to controller.
In the Remote control settings dialog, select the BasicGate1 automation clip from the Internal Controller drop down box (replace our automation clip with the BasicGate1 clip). See below:
When you have done this, click Accept. The new automation clip has now been linked to the channel volume knob.
Let’s hear the results once again.
Now this already sounds like something we may consider using, isn’t it? By automating the channel volume using a predefined automation clip we created a gated lead sound. Cool!
By the way, if you look at the Step Sequencer view (F6) you will notice that every automation clip is loaded into its own (automation) channel. Removing all clips from the Playlist will not remove the automation channel in the Step Sequencer (so don’t worry if you accidently delete your automation clips from the Playlist). Via the Step Sequencer you can access them again. See below:
This was only a simple example where we linked an automation clip to the channel volume knob, but the same technique can be used to automate any control – both native and in any VST plugin. To illustrate, listen to the following trance intro which relies quite heavily on automation.
The intro starts with a Nexus VSTi lead with automated volume, filter cutoff and reverb mix (I’ll discuss effects in other articles). Both the beat (DNC_Kick) and the bass (Nexus) channels are routed through mixer channel one in which I have place the Fruity Filter effect. What I automated is the cutoff frequency of the effect (and thereby affecting both channels in the same way) – it is like they are ‘dropping into the song’. You will also hear a rolling snare drum coming in – done by automating the volume. At some stage you also hear a rolling kick going from the left speaker to the right. This was done by automating the channel panning control.
As far as I am concerned, there are no golden rules with respect to automation. The best way to master it is to experiment, experiment and experiment.
You know what? I will dedicate a separate article to that.
Hope this FL Studio tutorial was helpful to you. Feel free to leave any comments. Happy composing!