How to DJ Mix songs – Cue point, BPM, Filters

Setting the start point (Cue point)

We’ve got to make a start point in a track, which we’ll be entering the mix with. When DJ mixing is live, then we have to accurately aim with the first track’s beat into the second’s one -in an appropriate phrase or bar. To gain the control (and the comfort when trying) we have to find the first beat of a chosen phrase, which we think is right to start the mix with, and position ourselves right before the beat. Depending on the player, we save this as our Cue. From this time we can start the song exactly from the beat we want and exactly in time of pressing PLAY. “You’ve got to have the beat under your finger to feel it.”

Sometimes we can use some help from a function called “auto-cue” found in today’s players, which will find the first beat for us by positioning just before the first bass kick (ignoring the silence and/or vocal). Depending on function similarly we can also find further phrases, not just the very first beat, but it’s better to keep everything under control and trust ourselves, rather than machines ;-).

Finding and adjusting the tempo

To make things simple, let’s say that we must match the tempo of two songs used in the music mix. We can often use not only the slowing or speed up of the song by the use of “pitch”, but also by using the “master tempo” – which stands for changing the tempo without altering the tone of the song.

How can DJ know the tempo of the song?

Today’s mixers or DJ players can automatically determine the tempo in the track, and the info is showed in BPMs on the build-in display.  This “tempo finding” functions works by scanning the song in search of distinct accents such as bass kicks, and then calculating the beat amount in relation to the time -determining the “beats per minute” value. Some of this DJ gear has the additional tap button that can be used to determine the tempo more manually – by evenly tapping the button. The taps are counted, compared to the overall taping time, and BPM value is set accordingly.  There are also special discs for DJs, which have the BPM value written on the cover.

Live adjusting the tempo

Really good DJs, especially those of them who use vinyls, adjust the tempo of their mixes live, letting in the first track onto the second one. We’re doing it by listening to the headphones. When we find that they start going off beat, we increase or decrease the tempo of the first track by a little. The biggest trick in it is to listen so intently to the mix, so you can know if a given track needs a slightly increase or decrease of the tempo. Beginning DJ will quickly find out that even if he altered the tempo to the right side, the change is insufficient or he exaggerated and now the beats are going all over the place…
So, how to make it right?
When we hear that it starts going off beat for the first time, then we change the tempo (move the slider) more than we think is needed. We do it until the beats are in sync again. Then we quickly withdraw the last tempo adjustment and we set it just a little higher. It often takes a few seconds and requires a lot of tries, and a good feeling of the gear we use. We repeat the whole track adjusting process until we notice that the mix is not going out of sync during several seconds. Then – we have a success 🙂 – we adjusted the tempo without any “helping devices”.

Frequency adjustments – bass and treble

Another matter is adjusting the bass, midds and treble levels in the mix on our mixer/equalizer. We need to do it if we don’t want to damage the hearing of our listeners by serving a loud bass kicks of two overlapped beats or to annoy them with chirping treble from the two tracks. It’s true that most DJs don’t care, but we’re talking about really proper mixing. Also interesting thing is that – believe me or not – if you don’t adjust bass levels your bass kick can even disappear.