Jean-Marie Cannie is one of the founders and current CTO of Image-Line Software, the publisher of Fruityloops and FL Studio. He runs the day-to-day operations of the international coding team from his home office in Sint-Martens-Latem. Here he takes the time to describe how the globally beloved and colourful music production interface Fruityloops came to be.
Photographer Thomas Ost (c).
In 1995, my business partner Frank Van Biesen and I had been working on financial software for ten years, and we decided it was time for a change. After spotting a significant gap in the market for erotic games, I wrote the Tetris parody ‘Porntris’ in an afternoon, which instantly became a bit of a cult hit. At a programming contest, I met prodigy coder Didier Dambrin and tried to get him on board at Image-Line, our company. The prospect of a company car didn’t exactly sway him, although the promise of a new computer did, and he went on to write several games for the company. One day, he showed us the first version of a simple midi music sequencer called Fruityloops, which he has basically written out of frustration with the available options at the time. As Image-Line’s position in the game market was dwindling, we decided to give music software a go, and in 1997 a fully-functional demo of Fruityloops was released on the still infant internet.
One crashed hosting server after another proved the market validity of our new product, which was promoted using an effective shareware tactic: instead of the usual time limit, the trial version allowed users to save the entirety of their creative outbursts, which was a pretty novel feature at the time. No one who works on the Fruityloops software has an actual background in music, and this may well have been the bedrock of our success. Indeed, at a time when most “serious” software suites looked more like a cross between a dull studio setup and a spreadsheet, Didier wanted to approach music creation more from a gaming perspective, resulting in Fruityloops featuring an attractive and colourful interface that immediately worked out of the box. The user would be able to hit a virtual button or flip a virtual switch, and hear a sound right away. What’s more, the software functioned using the internal pc soundcard, so there was no need for an expensive professional module. While the initial reaction from the professional music community was dismissive and derisive, to say the least, about Fruityloops’ interface as well as its focus on audio market’s lower tier, nowadays even high-end software studios have integrated ideas from Fruityloops into their layout and workflow.
Soulja Boy reached number one in 2007 on the Billboard Hot 100 with a track made entirely in Fruityloops.
Another element that definitely worked against our software’s reputation was the somewhat juvenile name. Luckily the Kellogg Company came to the rescue, pointing to the trademark they already had on the name “Fruitloops” for their cereals. The looming threat of a lawsuit turned out to be a blessing in disguise, forcing us to change the product’s name to the ultimately more credible FL Studio. For a few years, a growing community adopted the software, experimenting with the programme and, inevitably, a first hit was produced: Soulja Boy reached number one in 2007 on the Billboard Hot 100 with ‘Crank at’, a track made entirely in Fruityloops. The exploding EDM scene proved to be another big supporter of the software, with producers such as Martin Garrix and Avicii showing off their production through YouTube videos and basically providing incredible free PR for our programme along the way. A couple of years ago, Didier stopped programming work on FL Studio, although he remains a shareholder and consultant for the company. We had to replace him by no less than ten programmers, led by Didier’s right-hand Frederic Vanmol. Despite FL Studio’s massive growth in reputation and popularity, we still have no office building for Image-Line. Our team is spread out across the world - from New York to Toulouse – with developers working in their respective “mancaves” and only a wall of monitors connecting them. Nevertheless, the company is going strong, and with a Mac version of the programme on the horizon for the first time in its 20 years of existence, the FL brand is set to welcome an entirely new wave of users.image-line.com