Soulja Boy
© Bryan Allen Lamb/Red Bull Sound Select / Content Pool

The history of FL Studio and Ableton Live in 7 songs

From one-hit wonder White Town to Post Malone, via Soulja Boy, grime and Drake, this is how software packages like FL Studio and Ableton Live have changed pop music.
By Emma Madden
6 min readPublished on
Over the past few decades, no technology has disrupted or democratised music-making quite like Digital Audio Workstations. Experienced producers and bedroom-based dabblers alike have gone to the top of the charts with preset loops and instruments on their laptops.
No workstation has determined how music sounds today quite like two DAWs, in particular: FL Studio and Ableton Live. Developed in 1997 and 2001, respectively, these DAWs have shifted genres and set their standards thanks, largely, to their accessibility and ease of use.
Unlike the DAWs that preceded them, such as the complex and notation-based Cubase, FL Studio (formerly known as FruityLoops) and Ableton Live resemble something closer to a Fisher Price toy, with their colour and image-based interfaces, than a traditional music studio. And that's part of their appeal. They might contain all the possibilities of a full-blown studio, but FL Studio and Ableton Live require no existing knowledge of music technology in order to create. Better yet, they are relatively cheap to buy.
It's no longer uncommon to see bedroom producers and musicians who owe their chat-topping careers to these DAWs. Here’s the story of how they got there in seven songs.

White Town – Your Woman

Before there was FL Studio and Ableton Live, there was a man named Jyoti Mishra, in Derbyshire, in the UK, who was one of the first musicians (outside of dance music, at least) to prove that anyone could make a number one hit without leaving their bedroom.
Following the breakdown of his band, Mishra reinvented himself as White Town. Using an old multitrack and some free software he found lying around, Mishra went through the painstaking process of recording Your Woman – a track inspired by late '90s rave which placed its Al Bowlly sample at the song’s hook-filled centre.
Four weeks later, Mishra unsuspectingly found himself at the top of the UK charts, as Your Woman became what might well have been the first bedroom produced number one pop song ever. If you listen very closely, you can even hear the quiet squeaks of his floorboards.

Daddy Yankee – Gasolina

Reggaeton found its footing in Puerto Rico’s underground some time in the '90s, but the genre wouldn’t go on to enjoy international success until at least a decade later.
In its earlier iteration, the genre hybridised old school hip-hop breakbeats, samples with Spanish lyrics and dancehall. But when Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina entered the charts in 2004, it brought with it a new palette of sound.
Punchy synth patches, the sort of breakdowns more commonly heard in house music, and beats that were closer to dance music than dancehall signalled the new sound of reggaeton – and FL Studio was largely responsible for it.
Reggaeton producers gravitated towards computer-based production with the advent of DAWs from the turn of the millennium, and FL Studio – with its classic house presets – quickly became the reggaeton’s DAW of choice.

Soulja Boy – Soulja Boy (Crank That)

DeAndre Way, aka Soulja Boy, was barely a teenager when he started experimenting with FL Studio. He’d come home from school every day and start creating beats, each of which he’d finish in just a few minutes.
But his real ten-minute wonder came in 2007, when he released a FL Studio classic: Soulja Boy (Crank That). Relying only on the software’s preset sounds, the single went on to top Billboard’s Top 100 for several weeks, effectively earning Soulja Boy a million dollars per minute he spent making the track.

Avicii – Levels

Nile Rogers once referred to the late Tim Bergling, aka Avicii, as the "John Coltrane of [FL Studio]". Bergling had a real knack for melody, something he only discovered using FL Studio, when countless sounds became available to him with a series of quick clicks.
The software enabled DJs to recreate tracks made on FL Studio in a live setting, and is largely responsible for EDM’s massive festival culture. If you’ve ever wondered how one DJ on a laptop can draw in a crowd of tens of thousands, Ableton Live is the answer.

Stormzy – Shut Up

Skepta, one of today’s grime frontrunners, claimed that “as long as there are 12-year-old kids turning on their mums PC with a cracked version of FL Studio making their own DIY sound, there’s grime.”
In the early 00s, grime musicians took to FL Studio intuitively, exploring this cheap (and sometimes illegally obtained) software and immersing themselves in it like a video game. It was like a step up from making beats on PlayStations.
The software determined many of the genre's most recognisable traits, especially its 140bpm preset. You can hear one of grime’s most iconic FL Studio beats on Stormzy’s Shut Up, which samples XTC’s Functions On The Low, created over a decade before.

Drake – God’s Plan

Almost all of Drake’s preferred producers came up using FL Studio – and they still use the software to produce his record-smashing hits to this day.
One of the decade’s biggest tracks, God’s Plan, was produced by Ronald LaTour, aka Cardo, and it broke first-week streaming records with the aid of an interface that anyone could have downloaded for less than US$100/£76.
Like Boi-1da, Drake’s other go-to producer, and the grime musicians who came before them, Cardo started out making music on PlayStation beat simulators. Favouring the quickest approach possible, Cardo’s FL Studio productions still haven’t strayed too far from his gaming days.

Post Malone – Rockstar

Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke claimed in a Red Bull Music Academy lecture that, “if you were to look at the actual Top 10 Billboard songs, I guarantee eight of them were probably made on [FL Studio].”
Today, everyone from bedroom producers and their subsets, including SoundCloud rappers and artists sharing tracks on WhatsApp, are using FL Studio to control of the upper end of the charts.
This includes Post Malone, whose single with 21 Savage, Rockstar, broke first-week streaming records in 2017. The song was produced by a college student, now known as Tank God, who’s been an ardent user of FL Studio since he was just eight years old.
The track incorporates some of FL Studio's murkier presets, favouring a melancholy yet vibey 80bpm that's facilitated chart music’s general shift from the mellifluous to the moody.