You may be a record vinyl DJ, like me, and have moved onto a DJ controller or CDJ setup. Or you might be in the market to be moving over to a digital setup. There are some differences between using vinyls to digital, especially when cueing up tracks to mix them together. You may be thinking…
Why do DJs tap the Cue Button?
A Cue button is a point within a track which a DJ can start playing the music. Tapping the cue button helps DJs to count the beats and bars of the live music track being played. Phrase matching can be achieved once the cue point is fully activated and then pitch shift can beat match thereafter.
Fortunately I’ve made the transition from vinyl, to DVS to now DJ controller. I’ve had some experience DJing with CDJs in a DJ recording studio which has helped the transition to a DJ controller. I want to share some important areas of advice when cueing tracks using the cue button vs jog wheel. Hope this article helps you with you DJing skills and knowledge.
How to Use the Cue Button DJing?
Setting Memory Cue Points
Firstly, before you can use the cue button effectively it requires you to set cue points. You can easily set these cue points using the DJ software and DJ equipment.
Quantise settings help set Cue points
Before you set cue points, make sure you have activated ‘Q’ for Quantise on the DJ software. In the instance I will be referring to Rekordbox. Quantise snaps a grid to help you set cue points within the track.
Click on the cog icon which opens the preference panel. In there you will be able to make sure the that snap to quantise is set to 1/2 or 1/4 snap. I prefer 1/2 beat as it snaps to the grid a bit easier, otherwise you have to be super precise next to the point you set.
How do you set a cue point?
Ok. Once that’s done, you now need to move the track on the DJ software in line with the play ‘Line’. Then you can hit ‘Cue’ button. this will set the Cue point in which you can start cueing the track.
Before you start cueing up the track, make sure you click ‘Memory’, this will save the cue point for when you load the same track up again. Otherwise you will be forever setting the cue point when you re-open the track. School boy error if you keep doing that.
Remember more than one cue point can be set in the memory bank. You can name each cue point so you know where you are in the track when you save or select each cue point. The cue points you will see are all saved in order of time set within the actual track.
Shift button vs DJ software
On DJ controllers and CDJs there’s a shift button on the actual device themselves. When pressing this button and moving the jog wheel you can move through the grid snapping on the music track quickly to find the place in which you want to set your cue point.
You don’t have to use the shift button and jog wheel to navigate through the music audio wave file. Simply use the mouse or trackpad on your laptop to click on the desired area of a track in which you want to set a cue point. In some cases this is a more helpful method to get to a specific area of a track.
Memory Cue Points vs Hot Cues
There are hot cues that can be set different to normal memory cue points. These types of cue points are set inconjunction with the hot cue performance pads (that’s if you have a DJ controller with performance pads of course).
This is a cool feature if you’re looking to play around with the sounds during a mix or genuinely want to access cue points within the track from the performance pads.
Cue Tapping to Beat Match a Phrase
Ok, so why do the DJs tap the cue point?
This is all to do with timing of beat matching and phrase matching.
DJs tap the cue button to count in the beats and bars, so that they know the end of a phrase is arriving. Therefore allowing them to know when to hold down the cue point on the first beat of the new phrase.
Once the DJ has caught the first beat of the phrase, the DJ can press the play button and then the DJ is free to use the pitch shift to beat match. The jog wheel platter comes in handy to make any final adjustments to the tempo to refine the beat match quality.
Note: If you’re thinking above ‘what is a Phrase?’ then please see my other article that covers beats, bars and phrases. However the short answer is “An example of a phrase is a section of a song such as an intro, chorus or verse.”
How to Use the Jog Wheel DJing?
Traditional Record Vinyl Feel
Using a traditional DJ setup, which uses record vinyls to play music, the cueing technique and method is slightly different.
Instead of tapping, you move and slide the vinyl back and forth on the first beat in sync with music track currently playing live.
Tip: you can benefit from setting cue points still and use the jog wheel to cue up and drop a music track in on the first beat of a bar.
This type of cueing is available on digital equipment such as the CDJ deck or DJ controller jog wheels.
Let’s quickly explore the anatomy of a DJ controller jog wheel.
The jog wheel consists of two sections which allow you to control the music in different ways. The top of the jog wheel, the shiny smooth part, allows you to use the jog wheel exactly like a record vinyl on an old school turntable.
Moving the music track back and forth to the beat of the track eventually allowing you the DJ to drop in the track on the first beat of the new phrase. Remember to press the play button before you do this, otherwise when you release the jog wheel it will not go anywhere.
The platter is the part that has the dimples on it which is a sort of rubber material for you to grip onto quite easily. The purpose of the platter allows you to make slight adjustments to the tempo of the music track, slightly faster or slower.
In theory the platter on a DJ controller or CDJ has a very similar use as if you were to touch the platter on a traditional record vinyl turnable. Touch the platter slows down the speed and pitch of the track.
Sensitivity and Feel
The sensitivity of using the jog wheel is is very different to the cue button.
The cue button is instant release of the track, whereas the jog wheel requires you to be well timed at releasing the jog wheel.
You will most likely get on better with the cue button as you can use it to count the beats. Especially important if you are a beginner DJ, it makes good practice to count beats and bars. Good training in my opinion.
If you’re moving away from a Digital Vinyl System then it may be the case you’d prefer to use the jog wheel to cue up the tracks and release the jog wheel similar to the vinyl does.
Practice Makes Perfect
The best advice is to practice both methods and see which one resonates with you the best. I thought that using the jog wheel would work for me best as I moved from a Digital Vinyl System to a DJ controller setup.
After a while I realised that the cue button is great because of how responsive it is and you can easily tap along to the beat and get beat matching the tempo’s of both tracks quicker.
The cue button I find is more efficient, so I vote the cue button on DJ controllers and CDJs.
Use Hot Cues to Your Benefit
Hot cues are great because you can set them at places where you don’t necessarily need to beat and phrase match.
You can see hot cues more to help you be creative, for example setting them at points where there are vocal stabs or hooks, or even the break down where there’s not a beat in the background.
Setting multiple hot cues can allow you to play around with different sounds within the track, almost like samples.
Remember if you click on ‘SLIP’ this will allow the track to keep playing in the background while you hit each sample. Otherwise the track will simply lose its place and won’t sound great to the audience listening. Note, this is relevant to Rekordbox, this may be a different setting in Serato or Traktor.
Where do I put my cue points to DJ?
Cue points are most commonly set at the beginning of music tracks, for example on the first beat represented by a kick drum or hi-hat. Cue points can be set further into the introduction of a music track to help with mixing tracks quickly.
What does Hot Cue mean?
A hot cue is a marker that is set on DJ software such as Rekordbox or Serato. Usually more than one hot cue is available to be set on a music track. Hot cues act in the same way as the normal cue button, by activating the play of a track from a specific marker (hot cue) that’s been set.