There are several ways to make beats, but about the most uninspiring ways is plotting out beats with a mouse on a step sequencer or piano roll. What you start with is an uninspired sequence that you have to manipulate far too much to sound like anything that is really distinctive and interesting. It’s much more intuitive and organic to create the beats in real time with a MIDI input (especially one that is velocity sensitive), and you usually end up with something that is way different and more distinctive than if you had plotted it out with a mouse, and in much less time.
One method that I find particularly useful is opening the FPC (named after Akai’s famous MPC series) in FL Studio 11. Here is how I set up FL Studio for making beats:
Setting Up the FL Studio Environment
First, load up an instance of FPC (delete all other channels if you like to start fresh). If you are using a MIDI Controller, then make sure your controller is able to control the notes in FPC. The Novation Launchpad and APC40/20 have a preset script for the FPC in FL Studio 11, which make them nice out of the box options. However, the the velocity sensitive controllers are better for getting those subtle and not so subtle variations in drum patterns, such as Steinberg’s CMC-PD, Akai’s MPD and LPD series controllers, and the discontinued M-Audio Trigger Finger.
On the other hand, you can use the Launchpad or APC40/20 to have a nice set of system commands right on the same interface without putting your hands on a mouse or computer keyboard – see this tutorial on setting up a custom Launchpad configuration (there is a download of the script demonstrated in the demo). Also, the flexibility to create different scripts with the Launchpad allow you to be very creative.
For instance, you can use this custom FPC layout for the Launchpad that has velocity clusters for each pad.
Second, set up your recording to start in Pattern Mode, and select the channel that you want your first drum loop on.
There are two different methods that I think are useful and whichever one you want to use is really just based on a preference of command sequences (button pushes and/or mouse clicks) and the desired length of the recording.
1. The first method would be to activate Blend Recording (Overdub) and Loop Recording, then hit the record button on the Transport Panel to arm (I like to activate either the countdown or wait for input), then hit the play button.
Depending on your start options (Countdown, Wait for Input, or neither), you can start recording your drum pattern and it will loop for a single bar where you can continue to add elements on each pass. You can also turn of the record button to audition and then turn it back on to record without stopping the loop.
If there is no other pattern information in the currently selected pattern, this method will only record one bar even if you highlight multiple bars.
If there is other pattern information on a different track in the currently selected pattern, it will cycle to the length of the longest track if a smaller segment is not highlighted. Thus, you can put a ghost note (a note with little to no velocity) on the bar you wish to record up to in any track in the current pattern to designate length if you want using this method.
NOTE: The ghost note can also be on the FPC track as well.
2. The second method has the same recording options selected, but requires the Loop Recording to be turned off.
If you do not select a length, this method will allow you to record as many bars long as you wish without looping. If you do select a length for recording, the initial pass will only record in the selected area. Then once you have the first part of the pattern down, you hit loop recording to overdub and add to that pattern.
NOTE: Regardless of the method you use, you may also want to set your the Snap on so that the drum pattern snaps to the closest defined setting. Above you’ll see it is set to 1/4 beat (i.e., 1/16 note) so that the note information on the next pass is quantized to that particular note length. However, this is certainly a feel thing. For those who are not expert in their timing, the quantization is a really nice feature for doing the drum beats live with overdubbing.
Cycling Through Kit Presets and Saving Drum Loop to Pattern Preset
After putting down something that you are satisfied with (and after you have saved your project), take an opportunity to cycle through your other FPC Kit presets and see how your loop sounds. I usually find that the really good patterns sound pretty good across the board with most kits if you save your kits in a consistent manner (i.e., by designating the same types of drum sounds to the same pads). Other times, I hear the pattern in a different kit and realize that it would sound better with the additional and/or deletion of certain sounds for that particular kit. One thing that I do is save the drum beat pattern information that I am happy with into the following folder (…\FL Studio 11\Data\Patches\Scores\FPC drumloops\Your_Custom_FPC_Patterns_Folder\). The Your_Custom_FPC_Patterns_Folder folder is whatever you want to name your personal folder.
You do this by going to the piano roll menu into File->Export as MIDI File.
Then select the path …\FL Studio 11\Data\Patches\Scores\FPC drumloops\ and make a new folder if necessary or use one of the preexisting ones in the FPC drumloops directory.
This way you can access your saved drum beat patterns through the pattern manager in the future.