If you’re just starting out as a DJ, you’ve undoubtedly come across the term cue point. They’re normally activated via performance pads and you once you’ve set them up in a track, you can use them, abuse them and reset them. But what is a cue point and what can you actually do with it on a DJ controller, for instance? Read this blog to find out the answers and get one step closer to your dream of becoming a superstar DJ!

Hot cues and how to use them

From chalk to knobs

To cue something is to essentially get it ready to start. In DJing terms, it’s one of the fundamental skills and was used by the very first (scratch) DJs. Back then they played exclusively on vinyl, of course, which meant full songs and not just beats. For that reason, they had to find a method of using the most suitable parts of a record for mixing. Some tracks had parts with just a drummer and maybe some bass, for instance, and although these so-called break beats were perfect for mixing, it was almost impossible to identify them on the grooves of a record. That’s why DJs used to either place chalk marks or a sticker on their vinyl records to help them identify the beginning and end of these parts. With an identical record on each turntable, DJs were then able to create an endless loop. As you can imagine,  it was very difficult and impractical to make multiple cue points on a record using this primitive method. Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, making cue points is much, much easier today. Not only can you set a cue point to the nearest millisecond, you can easily make multiple cue points and activate them at the push of a button. That’s a lot easier than the old method and you don’t need to have a massive collection of vinyl that your essentially abusing either.

So much music…

Nowadays, almost everyone has a large collection of music files or access to them. Add these to DJ software and you’ll notice that it takes a while for all the tracks to be analysed. After the tempo, key, artist and other details of each track have been determined, it’s time for you to do some work. It makes sense to check that everything has been analysed correctly while setting up your cues. But where exactly should you set them? Assuming the beatgrid info (a beatgrid shows the beats in a track) and the tempo are correct, you can make a start with this time consuming but extremely worthwhile task. A good place for the first cue point is normally at the beginning of a track unless it starts with a few seconds of silence, of course. If the very beginning of a track is not a suitable place for the first cue, you can always set it at the first note or beat.

…and other cue points?

Now that you’ve set up your first cue point, it can be handy to set up some more. You could always be like the old school DJs, of course, and just work with the cue point you’ve set at the break beat. But because it’s so easy to set up cue points these days, it makes sense to add more to your songs. Where you put them, however, is up to you. You could choose to divide the song into sections like intro, verse, bridge, chorus, outro, for instance, or perhaps dividing a track up by the instruments it uses would be more handy? The most important thing is to put the cues where you think you’ll be able to use them most.

In practice

With all your cues in place, you’ll need to think about how to use them best. Often, the number of cues you can use is restricted, but most programs allow you to work with eight. That’s a good number because many DJ controllers or tabletop players have eight performance pads or dedicated hot cues. Performance pads can also be used for different functions like slips, loops, rolls and samples as well as for triggering cues. Some hardware and software allows you to set up different colours for different cue points. As you’d expect, pressing the desired pad or hot cue will start your track from the point you’ve set. This enables you transition easily between tracks or points in a track.

Developing your skills

You only need to look at scratch DJs to see one of the creative ways hot cues can be used. They’re essentially doing the same as the very first old school DJs did, but now have many more possibilities too. By setting up their hot cues they can easily skip from one place to another in a track allowing them to mix their tracks with ultimate creativity. If you want to become a DJ great too, you know what you need to do. Set up your cues and practice!

Where do you set up your hot cues? And how do you use them? Let us know in the comments below!

Also see

» How to become a DJ?
» Beatmatching: the basics
» DJ controller buyer’s guide
» DJ CD/Media player buyer’s guide

» DJ controllers
» Tabletop players
» All DJ gear

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