DJing with Cue Points

Pretty much every digital DJing system these days has pads for cue points, from the bottom end controllers, all the way up to the Mixars Quattro mixer, and Denon SC5000 Prime player. These pads often offer multi functionality and allow features such as loops, rolls, and slicers, all of which massively enhance the DJ's performance potential. This article will look solely at using cue points creatively, and ways to totally personalise tracks to suit your set.

1. Playing About with Chords

One of the most interesting uses of cue points is to set a cue point at each chord in a song, you can then re-trigger each chord in your own order. This works well if you are teasing in a new song, or remixing on the fly. 

A great song to use as an example of this, is the Tomsize Remix of "Stressed Out", by Twenty One Pilots. This song opens with just the chords, which you can play about with as you are blending tracks together.

Besides crafting custom intros live, you can use cues to extend the intros (or perhaps more importantly for the slow beatmatchers - the outros). 

On a different level, you can build your own track, using these chords, adding a beat on one track, and playing the chords on a different track. This can work extra well if you have a four track controller, or sampler for the beats, where you can dedicate chords to one side, and melodies/vocal shots to the other side. 

If this interests you as a performance style, I recommend checking out Serato's Flip add-on, where you can sequence the cue triggering to loop, allowing focus on new elements. With practice, Serato's Flip can be used in an MPC-style production direction to essentially build a track from scratch on your DJ controller.

The video above shows how Flip can be used with cue points to create a custom variation of a track. Certain controllers, such as the Denon MC7000, allow you to pitch the track to change the key and match it with other elements on different tracks. 

Using these techniques, you can emulate the production styles of classic house and hip-hop.

2. Custom Extends/Edits

You can set a cue point at each major change in a song, eg at the start of verses and choruses, to double the length of these parts by jumping back to their starts, or to skip certain sections. This is useful to skip an explicit verse, or key change in the song which may not be appropriate for the playing style.

As said above, it can be an emergency tool for extending the outro, to give more time to mix out. This is an important tool, particularly with shorter songs, or those with abrupt endings.

If this is something which you find valuable, you can also create your custom edits before hand in a DAW (digital audio workstation). This is what many DJs do to also have unique versions of tracks that only they play.

SeratoHQ made a good video for creating custom edits, which works for a wide range of tracks. Whether you do this with cue points live, or pre-set in your DAW, it is a valuable technique to be aware of.

Another reason to extend certain sections of a track is if you are doing a mashup, and need certain elements of each track to coincide together. This is useful if you are running an acapella over an instrumental and need them both to reach chorus at the same time. Either change the instrumental or the acapella, but decide which will have less impact on the overall flow and progression of the track. 

3. Enhanced Buildups and Drops

Sometimes you may be blending a song during a build to the next song's drop, using cue points on the outgoing track, you can keep re-triggering a section, or hit at increasing frequency. This doubles up as a great way of concealing the next song as a part of the previous song.

I often do this when playing an original mix, and want to blend in the remix of that song, where elements from both are hitting at the same time. When done right, this makes the transition more seamless and potentially frantic.

If two songs are in the same key, you can flick between certain elements between the two when they are dropping. This works best with tight crossfader technique in a Hip-hop-style "cutting" action, where you chop between the elements of each song, such that only one is playing at any time.

The Akai AFX is a great add-on controller for DJs who's setup doesn't have cue pads. It also comes with additional FX and functionality. It works with Serato, and when using CDJs as HID controllers, gives you the access to the features which older controllers cannot do. If this controller interests you, make sure you look up what setups it works with, as some wouldn't be compatible, but for most clubs where you can plug Serato into the hardware, it will work fine!

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