Digital Music Production: Intro to DAWs and FL Studio | Dom McLennon | Skillshare

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Digital Music Production: Intro to DAWs and FL Studio

teacher avatar Dom McLennon, Producer, Recording Artist

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Defining a Digital Audio Workstation


    • 3.

      Sequencing Drums in FL Studio


    • 4.

      Discovering MIDI + VST


    • 5.

      Programming MIDI


    • 6.

      Choosing Your Studio Hardware


    • 7.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Get started on your music production journey with this introduction to digital audio workstations. 

Dom McLennon’s journey to becoming a musician and producer started out in the same way a lot of other creatives' journeys do: letting passion and curiosity drive exploration. What started out as creating beats with his younger cousin just for fun turned into a spot in the hugely influential and successful hip hop collective, Brockhampton. Today, Dom’s music has earned him hundreds of millions of plays and over 200K followers across social media. 

After years of mastering the art of music production, Dom is excited to share his insight on digital audio workstations, or DAWs. Designed for those just starting their journey in music production, this class will take you through different DAWs, how they work, and how to set up your own at-home studio. 

With Dom as your guide, you’ll: 

  • Explore some of the most popular DAWs such as GarageBand, Logic Pro and Ableton   
  • Discover the best program for your music production needs
  • Learn to make your own drum pattern in FL Studio
  • See how VST and MIDI data work inside of your DAW

Plus, as Dom takes you through the basics of DAWs, you'll get insider access to Dom’s own creative process and what it takes to start the production of a new track.

Whether you’ve always dreamt of being a hip-hop producer or just want to explore music production for the first time, this class will take you through the basics of DAWs so you will have the foundational tools you’ll need to create music of your own. 

You don’t need any musical experience to take Dom’s class. All you’ll need is a computer, which you can use to download your DAW once you choose the right one for you. To continue learning about producing music, explore Dom’s full Digital Music Production Learning Path.

Meet Your Teacher

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Dom McLennon

Producer, Recording Artist

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Setting up your DAW is essential. It's like setting up your palette for your canvas when you start painting. A lot of people, once they realize how many different digital audio workstations exist, they're like I don't know where to start. The most important thing is ultimately to start somewhere. My name is Dom McLennon, I am a musician, a vocalist, recording artist, producer. You might have seen my work from the Boy band Brockhampton. I've also been behind the scenes, helping musicians and producers learn more about ways that they can express themselves as creative artists. What we're learning about today is digital audio workstations or DAWs. We're going to be explaining what a digital audio workstation is, how it works, what components go into making sound come out of it, how MIDI works, what a VST is, and what programs that you'll need to download to start from the very beginning. By the time that we reach the end of it, you'll have a better understanding of what goes into making music on computers, and feel much more confident and comfortable in a creative environment. Let's get started. 2. Defining a Digital Audio Workstation: What's a digital audio workstation, most commonly referred to as a DAW? That would be the program that you are using for your music-making experience and your music-making journey. For starters, what we'll do is we'll go into a more entry-level program like GarageBand. I'll walk you through what they have inside of there. From that we'll go to Logic Pro; GarageBand being your free program, Logic Pro being your premium program, so you can see the differences between the two. Then we'll go into Ableton, which is my personal favorite. Then we'll go into where we are going to be settling for the rest of this class, which is FL Studio. I'm picking FL Studio because I feel it's the best entry-level digital audio workstation to be able to get the best grasp, all of the nooks and crannies that come into digital music production. Let's begin with GarageBand. As soon as you open up your GarageBand application, this will be the first window that you see. It'll tell you to choose a new project or an existing project. You're going to choose a new project and then see these options that say choose a track type. You will have three different types of audio formats or sound formats that you'll be able to use inside of your digital audio workstation. The software instrument uses MIDI, your audio instrument will use any recording software or hardware that you have; an interface, your guitar, your microphone, etc. That will be an audio track, and then your drummer track gives you a loop that you will be able to play along with that you can use to build a song from. I'm going to create a software instrument. Once your tools open up, this is essentially going to be your arrangement view for GarageBand. You'll see all of your controls, all of your different forms and ways that you can manipulate this sound, and what this is that you are opening up and viewing would be called a VST. We'll be getting into that in the next lesson. For now, what we're going to do is we're going to move on to another program, Logic Pro, which is the more advanced version of GarageBand. GarageBand is the free thing that comes on your Mac, Logic Pro is the thing that you have to purchase. When you open up Logic Pro, you'll see a lot of the similar things that you've seen inside a GarageBand. You have a section for your instruments. Your software instruments will be your computer-based sounds and then your audio will be anything that is recorded from your microphones or from an audio interface, the same drummer track that we saw inside of GarageBand as well. But the big difference is that there are even more controls and options at your disposal. This is the user interface that exists in order to make Logic Pro as intuitive as it can from advancing from GarageBand. Now, where we're at is the digital audio workstation that is called Ableton Live. I'm a big fan of Ableton, this is my native digital audio workstation at the present moment. First and foremost when you open up Ableton, there will be two views that you'll be met with. Traditionally, you'll be met with your session view. Your session view will list all of your tracks out in an individual form, and then from the individual form, you'll be able to make different pattern clips inside of it to control what your sounds look like and feel like for each individual playlist. Now, if you want to get out of that individualized playlist view, there's an arrangement view as well. This is what you'll see most producers traditionally using whenever they open up their Ableton sets. In that arrangement view, you're able to lay sounds down across a grid timeline that you can use to control your drum programming, your MIDI programming, all of your VSTs, and sound design things. But ultimately the main gist of Ableton is being able to play sound on the grid directly in a way that's a little bit more free form than some of the more rigid things that GarageBand or Logic Pro might limit you to, so Logic Pro and GarageBand, very similar, Ableton a little bit different. Great. Now that we've gone through a couple of different DAWs, let's focus on FL Studio. 3. Sequencing Drums in FL Studio : Now that we've talked a little bit about digital audio workstations, we're going to specifically dive into FL studios user interface so you can have a better understanding of how the program works and what you'll be doing inside of it to make your own music. When you open up FL Studio, the first thing that you'll see is this channel rack which has a step sequencer inside of it. A step sequencer is where you program sequences and rhythms to be able to develop rhythmic patterns, create your own drum loops, create your own pattern loops, things of that nature. You can also do harmonies and melodies instead of the step sequencer. But for now, we're going to focus on drums. We're going to look at our channel rack inside of our step sequencer, and you'll be able to see that there are 16 buttons per each track that are highlighted right now. For example, we have our 808 kick sample here inside of our sampler channel. When you press "Play," after inputting on your step sequencer, you have one kick drum play at the one of your beat like this. [NOISE] Now if you turn your metronome on, that's next to your tempo, you will see that the beat is counting 1,2,3,4. I'm going to slow this down a little bit. It's a little bit easier to follow. If you got a 90 beats per minute, and you have your kick drum on the one, and you put a clap on a two, and you put H1 on three, and a clap on four, It'll sound like this. Now let's turn the metronome off. Now what we've done here is we've created a basic loop that we can then program and re-sequence. This is where you get to have a little bit more freedom, a little bit more fun. What we're going to do is I'm going to grab a couple of drum samples from some friends of mine. We're going to replace them with the samples that were originally here. Those being the stock samples that were inside of FL Studio. Now we're going to add an extra sound in by dragging it and dropping it underneath our channel rack. That's going to add a new channel inside of our step sequencer that can program sounds with this new channel that I've added to bring a little bit more diversity to our sample selection. Now I'm going to add a shaker sound to replace this 808 hi-hat that was originally here. I've shown you how to add sounds. Now I'm going to show you how to take sounds away. The left-click, you add your sounds in onto your channel rack. With a right-click, you can take those sounds away. Let's do that by taking away the second kick in our pattern. That's the original pattern with two kicks. I'm going to take the second kick out now. Now going to take a second shake out. You see how this adds a little bit more diversity to our rhythmic pattern, yes. Now that we've got a little bit of groove gone, inside of our pattern selector, if you click and drag upwards, you have pattern 2, some brand new pattern that you can build more arrangements out of. You can also right-click on this pattern. I'm going to clone. You'll be able to take the same pattern from before and add it to a new pattern, for example, pattern 1, we'll have our two kicks on it. Pattern 2, we'll have one kick on it. We've been able to do is we have a step sequencer that has pattern 1 and pattern 2 with the slight variation in the ear drum programming. So far we've been going into our general step sequencer and just putting in our samples. But what you also could do is right-click this sound and you can send it to your piano roll. You have even more granular control of how you want the sound to be displayed. For example, we can pitch up and down our shaker sample inside of the piano roll by using MIDI to say, hey, this middle C that the shaker is normally playing on, I'm going to bring this up three semitones, down one more semitone, down a couple of more semitones, and back to its original. That sounds like this. Inside of our channel rack, now you can see the metadata from the shaker that we've added instead of it just being a dot inside of our sub-sequencer. Now that we have two patterns that we've established, what we can do and has gone through our playlist view, which is located right next to your pattern selector. Now we'll open this window up. You can select your patterns right here and then draw them into your playlist and be able to make an arrangement. We're going to put pattern 1 for the first three bars of our arrangement. For the fourth bar of our arrangement, we're going to use pattern 2. When you start to make these patterns, and when you want to see what they sound like inside of your arrangement, you're going to have to switch from patterns to song mode. Pattern and song mode are located directly to the left of your Play button inside of the FL Studio transport window. Let's switch the song mode and see what our arrangement sounds like so far, 1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 3, 4, 2, 4, 2, 3, 4, back to 1, 2, 3, 4. Now that we've gone through the basic overview of the UI and UX of FL Studio and how programming patterns and it can work, you should be able to make your own drum patterns inside of FL Studio with the stock samples or with your own samples that she can drag in from your sample browser that's located to the left of everything on your FL Studio window. We're going to get a little bit more in depth with MIDI and VSTS so you can expand your sound range even more inside of your digital audio workstations. 4. Discovering MIDI + VST: Now that we've gone through a little bit more of our user interface, and we've talked a little bit about how to program inside of FL Studio, I figured it'd be a really good moment to explain exactly what's happening inside of the program while you're using it. The way that I figured would be a great way to start this is to explain what MIDI data is. MIDI would be a Music Instrument Digital Interface. That'd be the technology standard that is utilized to communicate and transmit audio technology and information from an instrument to a computer, to a digital audio workstation. You will use MIDI data to program all of your sounds, and all of your sequences inside of this digital audio workstation. Within that, you'll be able to have more control over exactly the parameters that each individual MIDI instrument can control. What these MIDI programs traditionally look like? They would be considered VSTs. So VST is virtual studio technology. Virtual studio technology is what powers a digital audio workstation. Now that we've explained exactly what MIDI is, we're going to dive a little bit more into the world of how that data programs a sound. Your MIDI data communicates with virtual studio technology to be able to generate the sounds that you will hear inside of your programs, so for example when you open up FL Studio, all of your specific sampler channels inside of your channel rack are technically VSTs. When you put data inside of the step sequencer, that is also MIDI data as well. You can use that same MIDI data inside of a step sequencer to program your drums, but also to program melodies. I'll open a VST that I have downloaded, this one specifically is going to be contact. If you guys need a free VST, I highly recommend Spitfire labs. We're going to open up this VST, we're going to go into the piano roll, and then I'm going to program C, E, and a G, this is a major chord. I'm going to stretch this out, so that's a half note. Since that's inside of Pattern 2, Pattern 1 is going to have the same thing, but one step higher. That will be up here. Now, we put this inside of our arrangement together, it'll sound a little bit like this. So now we have a better understanding of how MIDI data and VSTs work inside of our digital audio workstation, we're going to move a little bit more into some these drums that you've heard so far so that we can have a more complete sequence of music. 5. Programming MIDI: Now that we scratched the surface on how digital audio workstations work, let's dive a little bit deeper based of what we've learned from Midi and how VST works. It's a programming for our musical compositions that we'll be making inside of our digital audio workstation. So far inside of FL Studio, this is what we've been able to program. We have two specific patterns in FL Studio right now that are alternating to create this arrangement. We're going to create a couple more patterns, add little bit of variation in each individual one, and then once we had that variation, what you'll be able to do is be able to hear how this adds a little bit more movement, little bit more style, little bit more feeling to the composition that we're creating. I'm going to make another pattern where I'm cloning Pattern 1. Once I clone pattern one, you'll see that inside of our playlist arrangement, what was originally Pattern 2 has now become Pattern 3. That's because when you use the smart cloning feature, ultimately shifts your pattern down and then make sure that it still stays in the same place inside of your playlist view. That way you don't have to rearrange in things of that nature. Now, we have Pattern 2 which I'm going to enter inside where this second Pattern 1 was. I am going to add a little bit more to this VST instruments that we built with contact. I'm going to go back into pattern mode so I can program this specific pattern. We were song mode just now that was why 1 was playing Pattern 1 and then Pattern 2 again and then going back into Pattern 1, Pattern 3. When you go back into pattern mode, you'll be able to program your specific section that you're inside of on your channel rack. I'm just going to be finding the right notes inside of this melody to be able to add a little bit on top of this beat and then I'm going to use that for our Pattern 2. Then on our Pattern 4 that I'm going to be adding, I'm going to put a little bit more variation into the percussion as well. Back to Pattern 2. That note's a little bit off. I'm going to bring it down. Now, this is a fun part about using any digital audio workstation when you start programming midian, you actually can experiment a little bit, see if things sound right. You might have some things that come in a little bit off-key. That's okay. You just move it up, move it down, mess around with it. Specifically, what we're doing here is talking about how digital audio workstations work. If you do want to learn more about how music theory is incorporated into these things and how arrangement of harmony and melody works a little bit more in-depth, Skillshare has a couple of more tutorials from different people like Jacob Collier that you can check out for that. Now, we've completed Pattern 2 inside of our arrangement that we're programming. I'm going to set it up so that it goes from Pattern 1 to Pattern 2, to Pattern 3. Inside FL Studio when you're in your playlist mode, you can click on the side of your panels where your titles for each pattern are setup where the piano is little piano icon. You'll see this pattern clip when you pop up, you can go to Select source pattern. I'm going to switch this to Pattern 3 and then I'm going to duplicate Pattern 3 by cloning it again and I'm going to make the last Pattern 3 that we had in our sequence that was on the fourth bar Pattern 4 now. Each bar has a corresponding pattern for it now. We use Pattern 1 to introduce our loop, Patterns 2 as a little bit of variation to it, Pattern 3, we changed the chord a little bit. Pattern 4, I'm going to turn it back around so that we can go into our Pattern 1 and it has a little bit of excitement and a little bit of a fill-in variation going into that. I'm going to go into Pattern 4. Now I'm going to add a little variation to our kick pattern. I'm going to go into Pattern 3, add a little bit of variation on our kick as well. I think I'm actually going to take a clap out on Pattern 3 as well to see what that sounds like. Now Pattern 3 and Pattern 4 have a little bit more of a rhythmic variation to them and Pattern 1 and 2 have their melodic variations to them. I'm going to add a little bit more melodic variation in the Pattern 4 just because Pattern 2 has a little bit of melodic variation as well too so that we have a little bit of symmetry going on. This is one of the fun parts about programming and arranging inside of a digital audio workstation, you can just click around and have a little bit of fun. See how things work, see what makes sense. If it doesn't make sense, that's totally okay. You can just go around, change it again, go back to what you had. Nothing is permanent here, which is awesome. What I would like you to do is create a couple of patterns of your own and try to make your own four-bar loop and see if you'll be able to do a little bit of variations and a couple of different changes on each individual pattern so that one sounds different than the other, but they all move you through the music. Now that we've covered some programming, we're going to dive into hardware and the studio environment and how that incorporates itself into your digital audio workstation. 6. Choosing Your Studio Hardware: Now, what I wanted to do is talk about the external hardware that you might see inside of a studio environment that's communicating with a digital audio workstation. Some of the things that you might commonly see would be your audio interface and a MIDI controller. The audio interface is a device that communicate all of the data that is being transmitted via audio out of your computer into analog outputs. When it came to MIDI and VST, that all is happening inside of your digital audio workstation, specifically on your computer. Now, if you were to output raw audio out of your computer and if you wanted to have raw audio come into your computer that you could then record into your digital audio workstation, that's what you would use an audio interface for. For example, if you had an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar that you wanted to plug into an amplifier and then run that into your audio interface, you would be able to do that, you can either plug directly into your audio interface from the guitar, or you can plug a microphone into your audio interface and hook it up next to the amplifier so you can record the room tone from your guitar going through the amp. What I would like to do now is talk a little bit more about how a MIDI controller would work inside of a music recording experience. What I have here is an Ableton Push. This communicates specifically with my favorite program Ableton Live that I've been using for production for a couple of years now. I'm able to control different components and aspects inside my digital audio workstation with this MIDI controller specifically. Different MIDI controllers have different purposes. You have some MIDI controllers that are keyboards, that you use just specifically for playing instruments that you can assign through your digital audio workstation as VSTs, some MIDI controllers actually have turntables on them and you can use them for controlling specific software that revolves around deejaying, then you have other MIDI controllers like these, which are small, all-in-one workstations. The samples that I have put inside of my Ableton Push would be like the channels that we would put inside of our channel rec, and then I'd be able to arrange them on a step sequencer the same way that we saw inside of FL Studio. When I press on this top half of this MIDI controller, this specific layout that it's in will start turning it step sequencer up. This is going to be the one. We have it moving through our grid now at the time. Now I've put a one on each individual beat right here. We're going to put a hi-hat on the off beat for each. Then we can actually add a little variation in it, the same way that we were adding variation inside of FL Studio as well. I'm using the same knowledge and experience that I got from programming drums inside of FL Studio to be able to use this step sequencer and have it lay out the exact same way, and having the exact same understanding of it than I did in a computer. This is the really cool thing about MIDI controllers, because what it does is it gives you a more expansive toolset and palette to be able to be expressive with how you make music. Sometimes you don't even necessarily need to be looking at your computer to be able to achieve more creativity inside of your digital audio workstation. 7. Final Thoughts: Congratulations, you made it to the end of the class. You should have learned a little bit more about digital audio workstations, a little bit more about the terminology behind what powers digital audio workstations, and maybe have a foray into picking your first one and finding a way to make your own music. Really excited for you guys to be able to take this information into the field and see exactly how you set your doors up. I would love to see how you've set yours up inside the project gallery. Take a screenshot, share it below, let's see how we're all going to be able to make music together. See you in the next one. Bye.