November 17, 2013 - 7 comments

Digital DJing: Traktor cue points – example mix

Last summer, I shared my method for using Traktor cue points. This time I'm going to show a real-world example of this method by going over the cue points I used in my recent mix, The Titan Festival.

The mix has 25 tracks so this is going to be a long read. Make some tea and take your time. A few thing to think about:

1. You don't have to read everything. The screen captures tell the story; the text is just for details.

2. These are mostly harmonic mixes. Only a couple mixes are not harmonic and were actually used to break up the flow and redirect the mix. Check out the key progression via the Camelot Notation values under the artist name.

3. I used many different mix styles - breakdown transitions, 64-count mixes, minutes-long layered mixes, hard cut-aways, etc. All of these were determined by how the tracks' structures worked together, not just what I felt like doing at the time.

4. I don't play full tracks. There's 26 tracks in 78 minutes, which averages 3 min each. In most cases I only use one section of the track, and it's often the latter section. They're not all 3 minutes long either. A few tracks play less than two minutes, while others are played almost entirely. Changing song lengths helps reduce listener fatigue. Mix it up but stay focused on the juicy center.

5. Each track is selected to build off of the previous one. I used over 40 iTunes playlists to organize this mix including almost 10 source lists and over 30 mix arrangements. I'd arrange what I think works and then try it out in a mix. Then repeat. I left a ton of great tracks on the cutting room floor.

Ready? OK, let's do this.

titan_01_zodiac

1. Zodiac

The track has a natural "rising from nothing to massive" style so it's a great open.

Mix in: Since this is the opener I didn't need mix-in cues, just a load cue (#1) so I could always start at the beginning.

Mix out: two cue points. #6 is my starting point. #5 is a soft fade out - you'll notice it's blue which tells me exit here, but doesn't have to be a hard cut by this point.

titan_02_afterdark

2. After Dark

It's a really campy track that normally wouldn't work, but excelled at going "one step higher" than the open and offering a friendly feel that then descends into Nom's hard grind fun. Such contrast. If this was a story, it would introduce the conflict.

Mix in: I used the breakdown to transition to a vocal hook into a friendly hook builder. My trigger point is a 2, which means you can hear the drop, but not loud. The background sounds complement each other. #1 is when the vocal comes in and the previous track should exit.

Mix out: #6 is the trigger point and #5 is a hard exit. Cue #8 is there as a signal that #5 end four beats prior to the end of the phrase, to allow the drop hook in the next track to stand out.

titan_03_clobber

3. Clobber

The cut from After Dark into Clobber is huge. If this was a story, the drop would be the "look" that kicks off the first big action sequence. The downside is I'm about to play three hard tracks in a row (Clobber, Yarl, Chasing Summers) which is pretty heavy handed - particularly for casual listening. But it also set a tone that would contrast well with the big vocal choons, and foreshadow the hard stuff near the end.

Mix in: Trigger is #3, so I start mixing quietly. It's a snare build-up, so I'll ramp it in for the last 16-count and cut on the screeching brakes followed by "Go!" just before cue #1.

Mix out: long mix out. Cue #7 is trigger, #6 is long blend, and #5 is hard exit just before the next track's breakdown.

titan_04_yarl

4. Yarl

Loved the 303s - they ride on top of Clobber so well.

Terminology note: I tend to use the word "vocals" to indicate when lyrics are sung, as opposed to "vox" for repetitive voice-based sounds and samples.

Mix in: Trigger is #2 so you can hear some of the percussion. #1 is full volume, but doesn't stop here. I keep the mix going, allowing the heavy 303 bassline to grow on top of Clobber's big orch hits. I cut away a couple of times for Yarl's vox stabs.

Mix out: #6 is trigger. #5 is hard exit, 4 beats prior to end of phrase #8.

titan_05_chasing

5. Chasing Summers

I don't really care for this track - it makes the hard section last too long and the breakdown is meh on small speakers. But on a big system the breakdown is huge and the exit is just the right level of muted drive to set up the next track, Superman.

Mix in: Another heavy snare build-up. Starts quiet as #3. Ramps up during mix. A lot of tension in this one so I let it drop out a few times to release and squeeze a little more. #1 is start of first main phrase.

Mix out: four cue points for a long mix out. #6 is the trigger, #7 tells me when Superman's vocals come in, #8 is the vocal ride. #5 is almost at the end, reminding me to let Summers play out, but not quite completely.

titan_06_superman

6. Superman

I really like this track, but it's a little under-powered. Summers gives it a lot of heft coming in, so I had to keep Summers in the final mix or redo everything.

Mix in: First major vocal ride. #3 is the drop so I'm ready to intro the vocals at #2. There's still some background sound, so I'll drop Summers volume a little here. #1 is when the main vocal passage really starts. I keep the entire vocal breakdown on top of Summers driving beat, fading out only for the final build-up.

Mix out: Big mix time - both tunes going to be hot and hard. #7 is the start trigger, #6 is when the vocals hit. Because of the high levels of both tracks, I drop the volume. #5 is way out there at the end of the track to tell me it's going to play out to the end and don't worry about cutting away.

titan_07_hearts

7. Hearts

Another massive yet campy track. Vocals are gorgeous, but probably played to death by junior DJs. I skip the known male vocal and go right to the raspy-reprise female vocal in the last half. The mix in goes massive high and low - big strings drop down to almost silence for a moment, which I tried to capture by cutting into the silence each time as best I could.

Mix in: Tricky mix in. #3 is the drop lead into vocals at #2. Big huge vocal chorus here with even bigger strings. But both tracks are really intense ath this point, so bass is still reduced and track isn't played in full until the breakdown at #1.

Mix out: another vocai lead coming in and the current track is peaking. #7 is trigger, #6 is vocal, and #5 is soft exit.

titan_08_girls

8. Girls & Boys

Mix in: Basic vocal mix. #3 is the quiet start leading into vocals at #2. Vocals ride on top of prior melody. Both tracks come down so naturally at the same time so I didn't add a #1 cue.

Mix out: getting ready for big drop. #7 is trigger, #6 is when new track comes in, and #5 is a hard stop.

titan_09_fall

9. Fall

Great time to drop this track. I've been doing huge layers, but this time we'll drop down to a strong, stand-alone male vocal. Contrast. Track goes on a little long, but hey, it's cool. We needed a break by this point.

Mix in: #3 is early lead point, #2 is mix in with lots of little male vox stabs. I build those up until a massive drop into silence at #1.

Mix out: Finally, a basic mix out. Start at #6, end at #5.

titan_10_carried

10. Carried Away

Mix in: Basic mix in. Drop w/ big audible synth horns, cut when the vocals come in at #1.

Mix out: Also pretty basic, but big contrast in sounds. #6 trigger, #5 soft exit.

titan_11_together

11. Together We Are

Another super-campy trance track, but brilliantly re-tuned by The M Machine. That's five vocal tunes in a row, so let's try something different: an industrial-noise breakdown. But the track is a little old, so let's not actually play the dance part. We'll use it as a bridge into something even bigger.

Mix in: Basic mix in. #2 is audible start, and full volume by #1's vocal.

Mix out: Quick soft mix out. #6 is trigger, completed by #5.

titan_12_echoes

12. Echoes

Track blew me away when I first heard it, but then it was super cheesy. But it was that kind of uber-cheesy, like The Princess Bride, that you don't want to admit you want at first but please don't stop playing it. So I play the whole track.

Mix in: Soft mix in. #2 is audible low notes, and huge vocal hook at #1.

Mix out: A bit tricky and fast. We can't go for another round of this, so it's just 4 beats from drop #6 into hard cut by #5.

titan_13_stormwatch

13. Stormwatch

Breezy happy, well-produced trance house to give listeners a break after Echoes.

Mix in: Fast tricky mix in. #2 has trance vox into #1 bass dropout. First non-harmonic mix (1B -> 3A), so there's more contrast and clear division.

Mix out: Just at hard cut-away at #5.

titan_14_compromise

14. Compromise

Mix in: Nice drop (#1) into clean male vocal.

Mix out: Trigger at #6, hard cut-away at #5, just before end of phrase #8.

titan_15_weknow

15. We Know

Another one I wanted to cut short but didn't. I needed the extra run from the end, so I would have had to edit post-mix. Wasn't such a big deal so I left it in as a breather for the big hard run that's about to start.

Mix in: Quiet lead at #3. Roll in the snares and vox for main vocal at #1.

Mix out: Trigger at #6, stop at #5. I think I drop it out a little earlier.

titan_16_cybertron

16. Cybertron

Always fun to sneak in a Far Too Loud track into a mix. A lot of great energy and new thinking applied to classic builds and motifs. It's the awesome crazy straw in your martini.

Mix in: Quiet lead at #3. Big buildup gets layered on, volume rising until big drop at #1.

Mix out: Sample mix - both tracks have same base riff here. Start at #6, cut away by #5, before end of phrase #8.

titan_17_rockin

17. Rockin' N' Rollin'

You can only get away once with using the same riff twice in a row, so make it a good one. This track starts my favorite section of the mix - crazy hard techno.

Mix in: Quiet lead at #3. Big buildup gets layered on, volume rising until big drop at #1. Also a few cuts into Rockin' for vocal drops.

Mix out: Short mix. Intro new strings at #6, drop out by #5 before reprise.

titan_18_spectrum

18. Spectrum Insanity

If you can't play tracks like this, what's the point of DJing?

Mix in: Big synth strings start playing right away at #2 w/ big bass hook at #1. Drop one note before #1 for the hand clap.

Mix out: Start layering at #6, cut away at #5 just before end of phrase #8.

titan_19_techno

19. Techno Saturday

The death star has cleared the planet. I repeat, the death star has cleared the planet.

Mix in: low bass EQ, start playing #2 as counter notes, with build-up to #1.

Mix out: Just at hard cut-away at #5.

titan_20_scream

20. Scream Like This

Massive tension - hero vs protagonist. Simba fights Scar.

Mix in: low bass EQ, start playing #2 as counter notes, with build-up to #1.

Mix out: Quiet trigger at #7, strings start build at #6, and cut away by #5.

titan_21_stars

21. Stars

Another semi-cheesy vocal that only works in limited cases. In this case, it has this thing, like the vocals side of the mix is trying to force its way back in and shout over the hard techno, to take control and drown them back into place.

Mix in: Safe start w/ #3, start bringing in strings at #2, and big drop down at #1.

Mix out: Basic mix at #6 following dubstep breakdown, cut away by #5.

titan_22_never

22. Never Let Go

More progressive trance vocals to restore some balance and get ready for finale.

Mix in: Soft mix level at #2, adding piano build-up until #1 breakdown.

Mix out: Start mixing at #5, let the drums in while fading out. No rush.

titan_23_ifilose

23. If I Lose Myself

Really like Alesso - bittersweet w/ such highs and lows.

Mix in: Start playing low snares at full volume, let the track lead the way.

Mix out: Fast tricky cut away at #6, must be clear by #5.

titan_24_easy

24. Easy

Big finale with something everyone will love. Such a happy track.

Mix in: Early 4-count at #2  w/ 2-count vocal lead into #1 drop. #1 is most likely starting point so I made it the Load Cue.

Mix out: basic mix out #6 until #5, but keep playing low.

titan_25_redux

25. Redux

Let's take the big happy track and extend it up as high as we can go.

Mix in: Basic mix in #2 to #1.

Mix out: Basic mix out #6 to #5.

titan_26_sinai

26. Sinai

Mix notes: Epilogue. Production level is less dynamic, so I fade out at the end of the breakdown, before the beats kicks in. Always leave them wanting more.

Mix in: Basic mix in #2 to #1.

Mix out: No markers. Fade out at the end of the breakdown.

Wrap Up

Wow, if you made it here... wow. This was long even for me.

I hope this gives you an idea of what it takes to put together a strong mix. It's a lot to look at, but when you're putting your mix together, it's quite easy. By the time you have everything in place, recording the mix is almost a formality. It'll be that easy.

Quick tip for dedicated souls: record your final mix at least twice and cherry pick the best parts during engineering ;-)

 

 

Published by: radley in Digital DJing

Comments

pope
June 27, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Great stuff on documenting your workflow!

Been considering a switch to traktor for a while now, stumbled upon your blog while looking up details that would apply to my particular workflow. It seems your countdown method is pretty similar to what I’ve been doing, but I have a few questions after I drop my particular situation:

For the last 15-odd years, I’ve used Mixmeister to build a setlist and study transitions. This tool has allowed me to work out set flows and quickly experiment with tracks. All gigs used to be vinyl up until releases got pretty lean, I made the switch to the pioneer 2000’s for performance (about 5yrs ago.) My first year or so on that workflow drove me to write a script to translate a Mixmeister mix into a Rekordbox playlist and track cue points. In the Pioneer world, there are 10 cue points and 3 hot cues (A/B/C.) My script scans the Mixmeister set and pulls in the first cue point as cue-in, the fade in point as B (bass/vol up in a bass swap for example,) A as the fade out (play the next track) and C as the ‘cut’. Pretty similar to what you did, only your method is a bit more ‘portable’…

Now, here’s the situation: I mix a lot of breaks, d&b, and glitch-hop, and from set to set there’s likely a huge difference in the default cue points used for each track in a set than any other set (depends on the tracks and their order, really…) So, whatever cues were used in the last set prevail and the older sets cues get scrambled. To get around this issue with Pioneer’s solution, my script creates the playlist and copies files as hardlinks into a subdirectory. When imported into the Rekordbox library, it treats them as unique tracks and cues, so that set will always be that set no matter what happens in the future. It also means that Rekordbox is a ‘junk’ database, and that mixmeister is the master of the universe. Lastly, it also means that a thumb-drive of mixes will probably have a few copies of the same tracks taking up space (not at all a big deal in today’s world.)

Finally, the questions: What do you do when you have unique cue requirements in a particular mix? My guess is that Traktor’s database is probably very similar to Rekordbox, in that cues are unique to tracks and not to mixes, is this correct?. Since the cue information is optionally stored in the track’s metadata, do they provide a way to import that information from the tracks?

Best,
-P

    radley
    June 27, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    What do you do when you have unique cue requirements in a particular mix?

    Yes, cues are unique to tracks, not mixes. I’m not experienced with reading/writing Traktor track metadata, but very curious!

    I use a Kontrol S4 which has cue points 1-4, so I can use any of those for a drop marker. If I just want drop points, I’ll use them in regular order or best-cue order. If they’re not listed 3, 2, 1 then I know they’re not really countdowns.

Nu
May 18, 2014 at 5:12 am

Woops, found your mixes in the dj mixes tab :) sorry.. So just one question to answer please.

Nu
May 18, 2014 at 5:08 am

Hi Radley,

I love how you explained this in detail, I was looking for this all over the net. I have 2 questions for you:

1. You didnt really explain the volume limits when mixing in 2 tracks or how long you kept the master track going loud and how long you kept the incoming track low until you raised the volume to the max… Can you give me one example for any of those tracks? With volume level indications please….

2. Can you upload this mix so I can follow exactly how you did all those steps?

I just started off with DJing a couple of months ago and my mix blend is quiet impressive as told by many but my issue is in the volume and EQ while mixing in. I’m still having a bit of an issue fading out properly with some tracks (volume wise) and killing or adjusting the EQ well. Not all tracks but with some, you can sense there’s something coming and I dont want that to happen – I want it to sound so smooth it tricks you each time.

Thanks

    radley
    June 27, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Yeah, the S4 doesn’t have dip like the Pioneer or Rane mixers. I just do it manually. It really depends on how you’re playing. If live, you can get away with a lot more. When recording I try to keep as flat as possible and raise / lower volumes. My habit is play at 90% volume and drop to 75-80% for mixes. I don’t fiddle with EQ levels too much and only adjust lows when necessary.

    My crossfades will often be too loud in the recording, but that’s what mix engineering is for. Remember the master quote:

    There’s not a problem that I can’t fix
    Because I can do it in the mix

    By “mix” he meant mixdown, aka the post engineering of a song ;-)

Alberto
March 5, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Hi Marx,
really cool job! ;)
I have a question on traktor sotware: how you (or software) chose the color of the visual wave of the music?! and why sometime the color change a lot in a clip?!?

thanks a lot for share your project
A

    radley
    March 12, 2014 at 1:43 am

    Preferences> DECK LAYOUT> MISCELLANEOUS> COLOR MODE> SPECTRUM

    The colors reflect different EQ bands. Magenta is bass, red is kicks, while blue and green are higher frequencies – or so it seems. To be honest, I just like these colors best.

Leave a Reply