Cue points are one of those DJ tools that often slip under the radar for newer DJs - or even the old-schoolers who aren’t used to digital DJ gear. However, harnessing cue points correctly can open up a huge amount of creative and expressive potential in your mixes, as well as make the logistics of mixing easier.
In essence, cue points are custom markers created by DJs to highlight certain sections of a track. Most DJ software lets the DJ instantly jump to any of their assigned cue points - making it easy to skip to the verse, chorus, breakdown, or any other key moments the DJ wants on rapid recall.
In this guide, you’ll learn all the important techniques, tips, and tricks relating to cue points. You’ll quickly see how you can use these to your advantage, both in the preparation and live performance stages of DJ mixing.
TL;DR - DJ Software Cue Points#
Cue points are a powerful DJing tool, letting DJs mark and quickly jump to key points in a track
Learning how to use them will enhance your mix planning and performance skills
Below, you’ll learn all the most vital cue point techniques
DJ.Studio is a unique DJ app which makes it super easy to find and create the best cue points
What are DJ Cue Points?#
Cue points have been made possible thanks to the advent of digital DJ tools. On old vinyl turntables, these wouldn’t have been possible - you would have to manually remember sections of a track's arrangement, and skip through the record to find it mid-performance.
Cue points made the lives of DJs much easier, and made navigating songs faster.
A cue point is a marked timestamp in an audio file, for example - 2 minutes 50 seconds.
How Cue Points Work#
Most DJ controllers and software allow users to create 8 (or more) hot-cue points per track. The DJ assigns these hot cues to a time location. For example, at the start of a chorus, the beginning of a build-up, at the drop, at the start of a drum break, or any other key parts of the music.
These are typically created when the DJ pushes the hot-cue button - it marks the location that is currently playing (at the playhead point. (Most DJ software uses beat-match technology, so the marker is placed on the beat, rather than the exact time location).
Now, whenever the DJ re-pushes the hot-cue button, the track jumps to the marked cue location.
This flexible system has many uses-cases, and provides enables a range of potential techniques.
The basic workflow process for setting and loading cue points:
1. Navigate to the point in a track you want to mark.
2. Push the cue/hot cue buttons on your decks or software to set cue points.
3. When you want to recall the cue location, simply push the corresponding cue button.
In the next section, I’ll show you some cool techniques revolving around this feature.
4 Core Cue Point Techniques#
Cue points can be used in an infinite number of ways based on a DJ's ideas and creativity. Here are some cool techniques:
1) Song Structure Navigation & Phrasing Preparation#
The most basic use for cue points is as a ’logistical’ tool. In their rawest form, they give DJs a method to quickly jump around to any part of a song.
For example, you might have a song you play a lot, but you’re not a fan of the intro.
Rather than having to manually scrub through the intro to the verse every time you play the song, you can instead set a cue point at the start of the verse. Now when you load the track up, simply hit the allocated cue button, and the playhead will automatically jump to the desired point!
This just makes DJing a bit easier and means you don’t have to waste time navigating songs.
Cue points are also super useful for the phrasing technique. When you start phrase mixing, you can create hot cues to mark out the important phrases of a track, like the verse, chorus, etc, meaning you can quickly phrase mix your tracks without needing to find the parts each time.
2) Looping & Live Remixing#
To make your mixes more unique and dynamic, cue points can help enable fluid looping and live remixing techniques.
Again, this is mostly a matter of preparation and time saving - preventing you from having to manually find the cool parts every time.
You can use the hot-cue systems to mark out sections of tracks that you’ll want to use as loops or when live-remixing tracks. This can help make your performances more expressive with less effort.
Simply mark out any sections you want to loop, or parts of tracks that you’d want to trigger when live-remixing, and you have your ‘palette’ of hot cues ready to bust some improvised grooves on the dance floor.
For instance, you can use it for “Drop Swaps” - where you line up the drop of the next song, and switch over after the build-up of the first.
3) Scratching #
Hot cues also lend themselves well to scratching techniques. Some parts of a track might work well as scratching material. Rather than having to manually scroll to the parts, just mark them as a hot cue so you can instantly recall them whenever the itch to scratch arises.
4) "Cue Drumming"#
The "Cue Drumming" technique used by mechanically skilled DJs like DJ EZ, James Hype, and others turns the decks into an instrument and is a very cool and exciting skill to show off in mixes.
(See it in action at 14:30 of this DJ EZ Boiler Room)
The DJ finds part of a song they want to ’sample’. It could be a cool vocal hook, an instrumental stab, or any other sound that lends itself to this technique.
The DJ sets a cue point here, and then rhythmically hits the cue button, essentially playing it like a sample pad on a drum machine. You can also get the crossfader involved.
This can then be combined with manipulation of the pitch slider, to change the pitch/note of the cue in real time. It takes a bit of skill and practice, but when pulled off, this technique shows the audience that you’re a skilled DJ and can be the foundation of some exciting and groovy unique moments on the dance floor.
You can see James Hype showing off his Cue Drumming skills in this short video: James Hype: Cue Drumming
To pull it off:
1. Find part of a track that would work - usually it's better with sounds in isolation, like a chord, note, hit, or vocal element - rather than a cluttered section of a track.
2. Create a hot cue at that point - accuracy and precision are important.
3. When the performance time comes, start hitting the cue button rhythmically.
4. If you have the skill, simultaneously move the pitch fader to change the note of the sample. You can use this to create melodies with the cued sample on the fly and make dramatic buildups.
5. This works well before a drop, and in combination with other effects. Although it requires some speedy DJ dexterity - and definitely practice it before using it on stage!
DJ.Studio is a new piece of DJ software with some cool integrations with rekordbox - making it super easy to plan DJ sets and cue points.
Check out this video demonstrating the process explained below.
Here's how you do it:
1. Open the DJ.Studio app, and connect your rekordbox library.
2. Create a new Local File set.
3. Browse your rekordbox library inside DJ.Studio, and select songs you want to mix.
5. Refine the mix, using the editor timeline to arrange the tracks, and fine-tune the transitions.
6. Export to rekordbox - using the export menu, you can send your prepared mix to rekordbox, make sure to enable 'Add Hot Cues'
7. Open up rekordbox, and you should see the playlist is automatically added to your playlist library. More info here.
8. You will now see the ordered playlist of songs. Each song will have hot-cue markers showing the mix-in and mix-out points for transitions, making it easy to prepare and anticipate when you need to push the buttons. You will see a cue point set at all the key locations.
9. This can also be copied to a USB stick and plugged into Pioneer CDJs/Controllers which are used in most venues - retaining all the information.
10. Drop a killer performance!
This demonstrates just one of the countless powerful workflows DJs can exploit using DJ.Studio. There are many other techniques that won’t fit in this article, so make sure you check out the rest of our website to find out more.
With your new cue point knowledge, it’s time to get out there and start experimenting with these techniques. Who knows, maybe you’ll invent a new technique not listed here.
If you want to start accelerating your mix and cue point planning, check out the free 14-day trial for DJ.Studio.
FAQs About Cue Points
- How do you set up cue points?
- Do you need cue points?
- Do pro DJs use cue points?