When I first began to DJ, I would play each song from the beginning and let the songs play out while I tried to mix them. The problem I had is that the songs I was using I had never heard before, or wasn’t familiar enough to know how the songs play out. Preparing hot cues was not something I did often enough. Now, preparing hot cues is pretty much the only thing I do to prepare a DJ set, other than selecting the songs and selecting the order I will play them.
All dance music is usually in 4/4 time, and the beats are organized in counts of 4. When you have 4 bars of 4 beats you have 16 beats. Add another 4 bars and you have 32 beats. Multiply that and add another 32 beats and you have 64 beats. At the end of each of these counts, there should be a very noticeable change in the music – maybe a snare is added, or maybe a synth layer is added. Any one of these breaks would be useful in preparing hot cues, if you set the cue to activate the 1st beat of any of these phrases of 8, 16, or 32 loops.
The song on the bottom “Rattle” by Bingo Players is mostly organized in 32 beat phrases. Each line on the grey background is spaced by 4 beats. Each of these 32 beat phrases can be thought of and counted as 8 bars of 4 beats. After you finish preparing hot cues at the beginning of any of these phrases, it is great to get into the habit of always counting like this while you are DJing. It may seem sort of confusing at first, but once you become used to counting like this then it becomes very natural as you learn to groove with the music.
In the pic above I took the end of the top song “Flashmob” and repeated it after the little 16 beat section of the song below it. Lining up the songs like this makes the mix sound seamless – unless the listener knows the two songs very well, they won’t be able to know which song is starting and which song is ending.
Other than preparing hot cues at the start of a song, or at the beginning of any of these phrases, it is good to place a hot cue close to the end of a song. For instance, a hot cue would work great at the beginning of this “Flashmob” song loop I have repeated. This is the end part of a song, and so it is made in a way that transitions and phases until silent. Preparing hot cues near the end of a song like this is a great way to make your transitions blend great and your mixes sound seamless!