Getting started with FL Studio 21: everything you need to know

FL Studio 21
(Image credit: Image-Line)

The DAW previously known as FruityLoops has grown substantially over its 20+ year lifespan. In its early days, it was known for its ease of use. Compared to some of the dense and complex DAWs of the time, FruityLoops was incredibly approachable, falling into a space somewhere between music sequencer and video game.

This early simplicity has had a lasting effect on how FruityLoops – or FL Studio, as it’s been known since 2003 – is seen by the wider world. Detractors have a tendency to label it as a plaything. If this was ever true, it’s certainly not been the case for a while. In 2023, FL Studio is packed with functionality and a flexible crop of native instruments and effects. Depending on which FL Studio version you have, you'll have access to a different number of these.


Image-Line FL Studio 21

(Image credit: Image-Line )

Image-Line FL Studio 21 review

What is true is that FL Studio is a little different in-use than some other DAWs. There’s a heavy emphasis on pattern generation and sequencing track elements like building blocks. It’s probably this approach that has given FL such a high standing in the US EDM and hip-hop worlds, where a loop-centric approach prevails. Like Reason, FL Studio is doubly useful as a second DAW, as it can run as a VST or AU plugin, as well as a standalone program. Oh, and it’s not just PC-only these days – since FL Studio 20 arrived in 2019, Mac users have been able to get in on the action too.

One of the best things about FL Studio is that Image-Line offers free lifetime updates for the DAW. This means that once you purchase, you’ll be able to update to the latest versions as they are released for no extra charge. Core features and plugins are added with every update, so you’ll be enjoying new sounds and new functionality with every update, absolutely free.

Which version of FL Studio do I need?

FL Studio is available in four different versions: Fruity, Producer, Signature and All Plugins Bundle. Each FL Studio version is priced differently and offers a different level of functionality. At the most affordable end of the spectrum, the Fruity Edition offers a stripped-down version with core functionality for an impressive $99/£85. You’d certainly be able to get going putting together some basic beats with this version, but with no audio clips or recording, your abilities are pretty limited.

Coming in at $199/£164, the Producer Edition is described as an “all-in-one” virtual studio, complete with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a full-featured DAW. This is the most obvious choice for anyone looking to get acquainted with FL Studio who doesn’t need some of the more advanced functionality offered by the pricier editions. The Producer Edition offers 91 instruments and effects, as opposed to the Fruity Edition’s total of 84.


logic pro

(Image credit: Apple)

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Moving up from there, we have the Signature Bundle, and the All Plugins Bundle, at $299/£255 and $499/£409 respectively. The Signature Bundle ups your game with 15 more plugins than the Fruity Edition, and 8 more than the Producer Edition. These include the Direct Wave Sampler Instrument, Hardcore Virtual Pedalboard, Newtone Pitch-Correction Editor, Harmless Additive Synthesizer, Gross Beat, Vintage Phaser and Pitcher, a pitch-shifting effect.

FL Studio’s All Plugins Bundle brings you every single plugin they’ve developed for FL Studio that’s available at the time of purchase. Delivering 111 instruments and effects, it’s a great choice for those with a little extra cash to burn that are curious to sample more advanced synths like Morphine and Ogun, and take advantage of effects like FL Studio’s Vintage Chorus and Transient Processor. This does not include plugins released after the date of purchase, though the bundle can be updated at a reduced cost.

Is FL Studio free?

If you’re looking to sample the DAW’s capabilities and see if it’s right for you, Image-Line offers a free trial of FL Studio 21 that’s unlimited in duration. The trial version is functionally equivalent to the All Plugins Bundle, so it’ll give you a taste of what the most full-featured version of the software can do. 

The key limitation is that once projects are saved, you won’t be able to reopen them until FL Studio is purchased. If you use a plugin within the project that belongs to one of the more expensive editions, you’ll need to purchase that edition or purchase the plugin individually to reopen the project and use the same functionality. One more thing to note is that while using the trial edition, it’s possible to export to .wav and .mp3, so you can use the free version to create stems for use in other projects or DAWs. 

What's new in the latest version of FL Studio?

FL Studio released FL Studio 21 in 2022. The update significantly enhanced the software's workflow, adding an improved browser and search function that speeds up the process of discovering and auditioning sounds, presets and plugins. 

FL Studio 21 also benefits from the addition of several new effects plugins, including Multiband Delay, a delay that splits repeats across frequency bands, and LuxeVERB, a versatile reverb with a helpful visualiser function. Both of these are available with all editions except the Fruity tier. Those opting for the All Plugins edition can now enjoy a Vintage Phaser plugin and VFX Sequencer for filtered and arpeggiated grooves. 

Since the release of FL Studio 21, Image-Line has released several point updates, the most recent being FL Studio 21.0.3. This version has fixed several bugs and implemented minor workflow changes for an enhanced user experience.

Where can I buy FL Studio?

The best place to buy FL Studio is directly from Image-Line’s website. It’s also available from third-party retailers such as Thomann and Amazon. Currently Image-Line do not offer payment plans for producers to purchase the software in instalments, though some resellers like Sweetwater do offer this option.

What about FL Studio Mobile?

FL Studio Mobile is one of the most advanced mobile DAWs available for Android, iOS and Windows UWP. The app offers an array of advanced features, including a step sequencer, touch controllers, mixer, drum pads, audio recording, MIDI control, and real-time FX. You can even run FL Studio Mobile as a plugin within FL Studio. Version 4.3 was released in May 2023 and is available now for $15. 

How do I download and install FL Studio?

Before downloading and installing FL Studio, you’ll need to authorize the product. To do that, you should log in to your Image-Line account. If you don’t have one already, you can create an account here

Once you’ve logged in and navigated to your account home page, select Unlock Products, open up the Register Boxes and Plugins Serials section, then enter the FL Studio serial number you received following purchase. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the authorization process.

Once you’ve authorized, you’ll be able to download and install FL Studio. Head to the download page and identify the correct installer file for your OS. (If you’ve already got the demo version installed, skip the next step!) Open up your Downloads folder, double-click the .dmg file (Mac) or .exe file (PC) and follow the instructions on-screen. 

Now, launch FL Studio, select Help, then click About. Enter your login details, then select Unlock With Account. Finally, restart the program. If you need to unlock FL Studio without an internet connection, you’ll need to download and install a new registry key

Getting started with FL Studio

Image-Line have produced an excellent series of tutorials that cover getting started with FL Studio 21, playing software instruments, utilising effects, routing with the mixer, recording audio, working in the Piano Roll, and navigating the new browser. Check out the first one below, or subscribe to their YouTube channel for more tutorials.

Which producers use FL Studio?

Tons of big-name producers use FL Studio, including Martin Garrix, Porter Robinson, Deadmau5, Murda Beatz and 9th Wonder. It’s particularly popular with hip-hop and EDM artists who favour its loop-based approach and intuitive interface. Here’s a selection of producers we’ve interviewed in the past that use FL Studio as their primary DAW.


“I’m proficient at most DAWs but I think FL Studio is objectively the most advanced. It’s underrated and has features that are unmatched. When I use Ableton I sometimes have to call friends and ask them how to do something I’d normally do in FL, but most of them say Ableton can’t do it. 

“I’m clearly a fanboy, but I don’t think anybody should change their DAW if they’re comfortable using it to get their ideas out there. It’s like an extension of my brain and I’ve been using it for several hours every day since I was 10.”


“By 2001 my family had bought a PC and I quickly downloaded a demo of FL Studio, or Fruity Loops as it was known back then. I was able to hit the ground running and started obsessively making my own tunes straight away. Happy to say I'm still using FL Studio as the main brain of my studio all these years later.

“I would say that a great deal of what I always use when I'm working on tunes are the FL stock plugins. You could take everything away from me but the laptop and I'm confident I could make interesting music quite happily for the rest of my life.”

Digital Farm Animals (producer for Dua Lipa, Charli XCX, Louis Tomlinson)

I managed to get a demo version of Fruity Loops in my first year of school. I just became obsessed with it, and never put it down. I still use Fruity Loops today, on everything. That's all I use. I’ve tried learning other DAWs a few times, but I can use FL like the back of my hand. It’s like a second language to me.”

When is FL Studio 22 coming out?

As FL Studio 21 has come out so recently, we're not sure when exactly FL Studio 22 will be released, but we'd estimate that it should be at least a couple years away. Watch this space and we'll keep you updated when we know more.

Where can I get free plugins for FL Studio?

Depending on which version of FL Studio 21 you purchase, you’ll receive a number of powerful native plugins that you can get started with straight away. There’s a varied range on offer, and it’s certainly worth getting acquainted with the DAW’s native plugins before looking elsewhere.

Once you’ve learned the ropes, if you’re looking for free VST plugins for FL Studio that’ll further expand your sonic palette, head over to our survey of the best free plugins and best free synth plugins available in 2023, or keep an eye out for our monthly round-ups of free music-making software.

Where can I get free samples for FL Studio?

Like many DAWs, FL Studio comes with a limited selection of free loops and drum packs. Those wishing to expand their sample library can browse Image-Line's online store to purchase curated bundles of samples, browse the web for other sample retailers, or sign up to sample subscription services, like Splice. 

Those on the hunt for free music samples can also head over to SampleRadar, an archive of over 85,000 royalty-free samples that we’ve been working on for over a decade. 

Tips and tutorials for FL Studio

Useful links for FL Studio users

Matt Mullen
Tech Editor

I'm the Tech Editor for MusicRadar, working across everything from artist interviews to product news to tech tutorials. I love electronic music and I'm endlessly fascinated by the tools we use to make it. When I'm not behind my laptop keyboard, you'll find me behind a MIDI keyboard, carefully crafting the beginnings of another project that I'll ultimately abandon to the creative graveyard that is my overstuffed hard drive.

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