Humans have always held the ability to do things quickly in high regard. Way back at the first Olympics in 776 BC, the ancient Greeks were competing to see who could run the fastest. Now - with the invention of new pastimes and the ascension of the internet - humans have started competing to be the fastest, or to ‘speedrun’, in fields the ancient Greeks wouldn’t have been able to wrap their olive wreath-clad heads around.
In the ‘90s, fans of games such as Doom and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time began to compete with one another to see who could complete these games in the least amount of time, sharing videos or ‘demos’ of their record runs online.
Fast forward 30 years and a huge community has grown around speedrunning, with epic RPGs such as Skyrim being completed in under half an hour, and recordings of record Mario 64 speed runs clocking up millions of views.
But now this speedrunning mentality has started to make its way into the world of music production - specifically among the FL Studio beatmaking community.
Why specifically FL Studio? It’s hard to say. The DAW speedrunners tend to be hip-hop beatmakers, and many hip-hop beatmakers do, as a rule, favour FL Studio.
Another theory is that the video game-like workflow of FL Studio lends itself to speedruns. This makes sense, as whilst developing FruityLoops (the precursor to FL Studio) in the ‘90s, Didier Dambrin was inspired by sound generators which had the look and feel of a video game.
DAW Speedrunning rules
Unlike speedrunning in the gamer community, the rules surrounding DAW speedrunning are less defined. Video game speedrunning is divided into many different categories with specific rules for each, whereas the parameters of a DAW speedrun change from speedrunner to speedrunner.
Some creators, like Simon Servida, set out to recreate well-known songs. Servida claims to hold the current world record speedrun time for recreating the Soulja Boy beat, with a time of just 19.91 seconds.
Other FL Studio speedrunners are creating beats from scratch in unfathomably fast times. Most notable amongst this community is robtmb. This hip-hop producer’s social media channels are filled with videos of him creating original beats against the clock, and they’re incredibly popular, often amassing millions of views.
Unlike video game speedrunning, where there is a large online community of gamers trying to beat the same games in record times, DAW speedrunning is still very much at the stage where speedrunners are content creators performing DAW speedruns for their own channels, rather than to rank or compete with fellow speedrunners. As a result, each producer tends to create their own rules for their own speedruns.
Simon Servida laid out a few rules for his Crank That speedrun, including which samples must be included, the exact drum pattern, the arrangement and the length of the beat. Others who attempted this specific speedrun followed these rules.
Are DAW Speedruns real?
It’s hard to say whether speedrunning producers are faking their videos or not. Videos could easily be sped up or trimmed to make them appear faster.
In addition, it’s almost impossible to work out whether producers who are writing original beats in their speedruns are writing them on the fly, or recreating beats they have already written.
In the case of robtmb, he does occasionally point out “mistakes” in his beats, which suggests he is recreating something he has already written. In addition, as Weaver Beats points out in his video on the topic, in one of his TikTok videos, robtmb captions the video ‘RECREATING MY MOST VIRAL BEAT’, suggesting that at least some of the beats on his TikTok could be recreations.
One thing’s for sure with robtmb: he is actually building these beats in real time. His early videos show his hands and his screen on camera together as he produces. Even if these beats are recreations, the speed at which he’s producing is inarguably impressive.
But the same can’t be said for all speed running producers. This tongue-in-cheek video from tiguan features breathless commentary from the producer as he clicks madly in a way that bears no relation to what’s happening in his DAW.
What’s the point in DAW Speedrunning?
Many of these speedrunning videos are very entertaining, and take a lot of skill to make. However, watching them does make you wonder, ‘what’s the point?’, a question that’s been asked by many commenters.
However, although 30 seconds may be a bit extreme, there is something to be said for placing time limitations on your production workflow.
Many producers can suffer from decision fatigue when presented with all the instruments and effects modern DAWs have to offer, and plenty of time to produce in. If you find yourself in this situation, why not take a leaf from the DAW speedrunners book and only give yourself 15 minutes to create a beat? It might just help you to finish some tracks.
If you watch these speedruns and feel intimidated or demotivated by them, just remember that this is not what the workflow of an average producer looks like.
You certainly shouldn't feel like you need to finish lots of tracks in order to be validated as a producer. With the rise of beatmaking, there’ s plenty of talk about producers aiming to finish a certain number of beats per day, and if you’re not as productive as these people claim to be, that can make you feel pretty disheartened.
But every artist works at a different rate, and how many beats or tracks you are able to finish is not a measure of your abilities as a music producer. Just look at Jamie xx, who has released one album in seven years!
Making music should be enjoyable, and putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to finish as many tracks as possible is a sure-fire way to make it unenjoyable.
Another point to consider is that the production skills on display in these speedruns are pretty limited. Yes, many of the speedrun attempts result in a strong sounding beat, but there’s no sound design, mixing, effects processing, mastering or collaboration going on.
These speedruns are mainly made using sequenced samples. There’s nothing wrong with working in this way but it does represent one very small element of the music production skill set.
The Best FL Studio Speedruns
Simon Servida – Crank That (Soulja Boy)
This recent speedrun recreation of Soulja Boy’s ubiquitous Crank That is Servida’s second attempt at this particular challenge. He initially set a record of 37.39 seconds in February 2022 but then had to reclaim his crown after having it snatched by Eliminate.
robtmb – FASTEST YEAT BEAT EVER
With over one million views on YouTube, and plenty more on TikTok and Instagram, this video demonstrates the absolutely blinding speed of robtmb’s mouse clicking and shortcut clacking.
Y2K – Lalala
Though not done to a clock, this beat build from Y2K himself is done at lightning speed and is perhaps the first video online presenting DAW production in this speedrun style - this time in Ableton Live.