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Working the cue
The bare bones
You can't start mixing without starting the tune. No matter what format you use, you need to find the place you want to start from (known as the cue point) and then be able to start the tune at an exact moment. The first part is easy. The second part, is maybe not quite as as easy.
I've recently added some basic audio files for you to download and use for 'learning' purposes. Unfortunately, they're really only going to be useful for the CD or Laptop DJ - as unless you can press your own vinyl, you might find it tough to get these fellas onto a 12 inch record! However, this link contains a zip file with 6 audio files designed to aid your beatmatching. I'm currently working on a video to accomany the package, just to clear up what you might want to do with them.
Finding the Cue
The first thing you need to do is set up your mixer. Put the channel faders for both inputs (CD or Vinyl) to full, and the cross fader to the middle. Set the gain controls and EQ controls on both channels to the same setting too.
Whether you use vinyl, CD or MP3 - the most important thing you can do is find an exact cue point. In most instance, this cue point will be a bass drum - and it'll probably be either the very first bass beat of the entire tune, or it'll be the first beat of a phrase in the intro. (Check out the Better Mixing page for information on Phrases etc).
With vinyl, assuming it's the very first beat of the tune, this is simple enough. Just put the needle on the record at the very beginning, press play, and when you hear the first bass beat, stop the record, and wind it back - until you hear silence. Then wind it forward a tiny amount, until you can hear the bass beat begin to play. Press stop, and leave the needle there. You now have the needle cued at the very first bass beat
CD's are just as simple. Pop in the CD and press play. It's going back to the very beginning of the bass beat that's harder. If you have something like the CDJ1000's, you can just wind the platter back in exactly the same way as you would with a turntable. When you hear the bass beat, and you know you're at the beginning, press CUE to store it. (Most other models of CD deck will probably need you to press PLAY to set the cue).
If however, you're using a CD deck that doesn't have vinyl emulation (like the CDJ1000's) and when you pause the tune, it just repeats that same frame of music over and over, use the controls on your CD deck which let you skip back frame by frame (you'll either have dedicated controls, or just press the search buttons quickly in succession to do this) and wait for the juddering, broken CD sound to stop. Skip forward one more frame to make sure you're right at the beginning of the bass beat - and then store the Cue point (either by pressing CUE, or PLAY - check your manual).
The videos page has clips on how to find the bass beat using vinyl (I'm in the process of making one for the CDJ1000's). Check out the videos here.
Starting the beat
Starting the tune on CD is easy. Press play.
With vinyl, it's a little more difficult. Or at least, starting it in time with another bass beat is a little more difficult. Hold the record that you have already set the cue for still with your hand, and press start on the turntable. As long as you've got a decent turntable, good slipmats, and aren't pressing down on the record with all your might, the turntable should start up and spin under the stopped record. Now just practice rocking the record back and forth, so you hear a boom-woomp - boom-woomp sound as you do so (there's a video clip which demonstrates this).
Once you're happy with the timing rocking the record back and forth in a rhythm (not unlike a normal drum-beat) let go of the tune. It'll happily start playing. Stop the record with your hand, wind it back to the first bass beat - and start it playing (on its own) again. This gets you used to starting the record in time.
The next thing to do is start your record (or CD) in time - with another tune!!
Starting in time with another tune
The harder bit
It will really help you out if you can find two copies of the same tune now. If you're using CD's, great - just burn two copies of the same tune. If you're using vinyl, please don't consider this a waste of money, two copies of the same tune makes starting off from the beginning a lot easier. As to what to pick, go for something with a clear, clean bass drum playing from the beginning - and preferably stays nice and solid for a long time.
CD DJs have it easy here. Set the pitch control on both decks to 0, set the cue point for both of them to the very first bass drum - and press play on one of them. As you've left the cross fader in the middle, with both channel faders up, you should hear music play.
Go to the other CD deck. This should be cued up at the same bass beat as the other one. Listen to the other one playing through the speakers - tap your feet along with the bass drum if you want to, but the important thing is that you know when they're playing, so you can start the other CD deck in time. When you're comfortable, press play. For the time being, it doesn't matter what bass drum, and where in the tune you start it, you're just concerning yourself with keeping the bass drums in time, not the entire tune - that's the next step.
When you pressed play, you'll have either timed it perfectly, and got the beats in time, pressed play too soon - or pressed it too late (both of which will cause a heartbeat sound from the two bass drums playing out of time). If this is the case, return to the cue point (normally just by pressing the CUE button) and have another go. You may want to re-start the other tune too - just in case you've played a bit into it by now.
Keep trying. Concentrate on the bass beat, and try to press play in time with it. If you're consistently getting it completely wrong, quickly stop the other tune from playing, and just start the cued one on its own a couple of times, just to be sure that when you press PLAY, the bass beat instantly starts playing. If it doesn't - reset the cue point that you've set.
Vinyl is a little more tricky - but hopefully the rocking back and forth that you did earlier will have given you great preparation for this.
As with CDs, set both pitch controls to 0, set the cue on both records to the first bass beat and start one of the turntables playing. Go to the stopped turntable, and start it, while holding it stopped - and start to rock the bass beat (the boom-woomp thing I was on about earlier) in time with the bass drums from the tune playing. When you feel comfortable, and think you'll start it on the beat, start you record. Again, you'll have either got it right - or wrong. If it's wrong, lift the needle off, find the cue point again, and have another go. Even if you got it right - keep practising this.
If you find that you're always starting the record too slowly, it might not be your fault, simplt the fault of the motor on the turntable. If you suspect this IS the case, give the record a little push as you start it. Not too much, but just a gentle shove - that should be enough.
Keep practising (with CD and with vinyl) and hopefully it'll only take you half an hour to be comfortable starting your tunes. Even if you've only got a 70% hit rate, don't worry - the next section is about error correcting, so you don't need to return to the cue point when you start the beats out of time.
All of these subjects are covered in a lot more detail in the book, and this site also has video clips showing how to start the beats in time. (Currently only with vinyl, I'm in the process of making one for the CDJ1000's). Check out the videos here.
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Because it doesn't always go right
In the previous examples, if you go the start wrong, I said to go back and try again. Though it's important that you do this to help develop your skills, it's obviously not the most effective way to do this. Which is why you need to know about error correcting.
Correcting with Vinyl
Vinyl is nice to work with. If you think you started the record too late, and it needs sped up a bit, you just need to make it play faster a bit. You can do this in a few different ways:
- Push the label - be careful of course, but pushing the label round with your finger is my preferred method
- Pinch the center spindle, and use that to turn the turntable faster - improves your finger grip strength too!
- Use the pitch control - this is my least preferred method, but my boosting the pitch control a litle, then when the beats are in time, returning it to the original pitch setting, you will get the beats in time (I don't like it as, apart from when you're at 0 pitch, you can't be 100% sure that you're returning to the original pitch after the boost)
If you've started it too early, you'll need to slow it down. You could stick to the pitch control idea, just slip it down to 1% for a while, and when the beats are in time, put it back to 0 again - but I much prefer touching the side of the platter (the part where the bumps are) so add friction, slowing down the deck - and then just removing my finger when the beats are in time.
Correcting with CDs
You don't have quite as much manual control, or options, over adjusting the CDs for error correcting. On turntables that don't have jog dials or platters, you'll just be paced with the option of temporarily changing the pitch (like the options for vinyl) - or you will (hopefully) have a pitch bend control, which will likely be a pair of buttons which when pressed make the music speed up or slow down - and then when released, returns the music to the original pitch setting.
If you've got a jog dial (sprung wheel, not a fully rotating platter) then you might find that a small turn left or right while the tune is playing will be how you 'Pitch bend' to get the beats to play in time. The further you turn the dial, the greater the pitch bend.
The CDJ1000's that I use have an outer ring on them which is spun round to act as a pitch bend. This makes it feel more similar to a turntable, speeding up and slowing down the tune manually. However, the Denon 3500's and Technics SLDZ1200's have rotating platters that control the music in exactly the same way as a turntable. Speed up the rotating platter by pushing it etc, and the tune temporarily plays faster, slow down the platter (using your finger on the side) and the tune will temporarily slow down, so the beats fall into time.
Though there are video clips on here which will help with the error correcting with vinyl, I'm yet to record one using the CDJ's. I'll keep you posted, and update this page when they're finally up here.
Too fast or too slow?
How to tell whether you need to speed up or slow down
This subject is by far the most complicated part of DJing. There's a lot more information on this in my book, and there's also a Video Lecture on this site, where I walk you through this concept with examples. If you're unsure of this by reading the following section, I really recommend checking out the video, and buying the book.
B'loom and l'Boom
The easiest way to work out whether your tune is playing too fast or too slow, is to introduce a volume difference. So, we need to change the mixer settings slightly, so they're similar to what you hear in your headphones (when using headphone mix). It's simple - keep the cross fader in the middle, but the channel fader for the tune that you just leave playing should be set to around 50%-75% of the one you're trying to start in time.
What this means is that when you play the two tunes, one of them (the one you want to start, which is the CUED track) will be louder than the other one (the LIVE track). So, the CUED track plays it's loud bass beats as a BOOM and the LIVE track plays its beats as a softer, loom sound. And this is how you gauge what's going on.
- When you hear B'loom - that sound is created because the Boom comes before the loom sound.
- When you hear l'Boom - that sound is created because the loom sound comes before the Boom sound
It'll probably take a few attempts at starting your tunes and really listening to the sound of the bass beats to be able to hear these sounds, and properly identify B'loom or l'Boom - and you may want to play with how loud the LIVE track is playing in case that helps too - but believe me, once you hear it, you'll always hear it (kinda like looking at a Magic Eye picture. It takes ages to learn the knack of seeing the hidden image, but once you manage it, you always manage it).
B'loom and l'Boom
An added guide to this is just to listen before hand to the sounds of the bassdrums. When you know that the CUED track has a certain sound to its bass drum, or the LIVE track has a certain sound to its bass drum, it's a lot easier to hear what beat is coming first. Paul Van Dyk, for example, uses unique bass drums in the tunes he makes - so it's always easy to tell whether a track is running too fast or too slow - just listen for when his bass drum occurs.
No headphone mix? No problem
The principle explained above works best when using headphone mix. The setup is similar to how you've just set up the mixer. Have the CUED track playing through the headphone at a loud volume, but bleed in (play at a low volume) the live track - so you can hear it, but it doesn't drown out the CUED track. That way, you can easily hear the B'loom l'Boom indicators.
However, what do you do if you don't have headphone mix? It's a bit harder I'm afraid. If you cue both tunes up in your headphones at the same volume, you will have to listen to the sound of the bass drums in order to tell what tune is going out of time. You could increase the gain control on the track you're about to mix in - just temporarily, before you start the mix - which will give you the volume offset similar to headphone mix, but I really don't recommend it - the chances that you'll forget to put the gain back to normal by the time you start the mix are too likely, and the result is too nasty.
Of course, the other thing to do is just start the tune playing, and listen through the main speakers as you start the mix. By the time you get the cross-fader about 1/4 of the way across, you'll start to hear either B'loom or l'Boom if the beats are out of time. Crucially though, you need to remember that the Boom will be coming from the LIVE track, and the loom will be coming from the lower, CUED track through the speakes. This is the opposite of the headphone mix concept - but it's really important that you understand that the B'loom/l'Boom thing refers to loud/quiet - not strictly to CUED/LIVE tracks.
There's more information about the various methods of cueing and mixing using your headphones in the book.
Matching Beats - "Beatmatching" if you will...
Using the pitch control to match speeds
Still using your same two copies of the same tune - set one of them so that the pitch control is around 4% and start it playing. With the pitch control at 0 on the other tune, CUE the first bass beat (you'll be great at that now) and start it playing. The beats will start to 'drift' out of time really quickly - as the two tunes are playing at different speeds. This, is beatmatching.
Take it in chunks
Ok, so you have the option to cheat in this instance. You can just look at the other pitch control, and set the pitch on your 0 pitch CD/Turntable to the same place - and you'll be pretty close. But, lets assume you want to be a DJ, rather than cheat. Go back to the cue point, and start the tune playing. When it drfits out of time, speed it up with your chosen method, then boost the pitch control by about 2%. You'll hear that the beats start to drift again, but not as quickly as before. Boost by another 1% - the same will happen. They'll drift, but not as quickly as before. Finally, take the pitch to about 4%. What's likely to happen is that after 20 seconds, the beats will start to play out of time. Using your B'loom l'Boom knowledge, work out if the tune is playing too fast or too slow, adjust the speed of the record temporarily, and adjust the pitch control to reflect your change. You'll probably only need to do this by a couple of millimetres.
Now you're happy doing that (repeat it a few times if you're not), put a piece of paper over the pitch control, and increase. This way, you know you've increased it, but you won't know by how much. Go through a similar 'chunk' approach to try to find the right pitch. Use large, coarse pitch changes first, listen to if the beats start to play too fast or too slow, and then use ever smaller adjustments to get closer to the exact pitch. It'll take longer than before, that's for sure, but as long as you concentrate on hearing the beats, and listen out for B'loom and l'Boom - you'll get it just fine after a few attempts.
It's quickly, consistently, and easily getting it right that's the real skill about beatmatching. Being able to do this all the time, and quickly, will take you years to master - but it's a skill you need - and one that once you have it, won't leave you.
New Tunes - At last!!
The last step in beatmatching is to do it with different tunes. Approach this in exactly the same way as before. The big difference this time is that you won't be able to cheat by looking at the pitch control to know where to set the pitch in order to match the beats. Just listen to the beats, listen to how quickly they go out of time, and whether they go out of time because they're too slow - or too fast - once again, time and concentration are the key points here - but in time, you'll get it.