Old MIDI files with lots of MIDI channels, useless or useful?

I download a lot of old and new MIDI files to learn more about MIDI and orchestral programming, and the ones that are the bulkiest ones, which are usually the best, come with a lot of used channels, which Cubase makes it easy to see when enlarging the MIDI editor and click on Show Used Controllers.

As you can see in this example, there are a lot of them, which I suspect are useless nowadays, and were meant more for the old days of MIDI keyboards with 5 pin connectors and all that. But suspecting it doesn’t make it a reality, so I figured I would ask the experts. In a couple of them that I already started working on, I simply selected all the events and pressed the delete key. Didn’t seem to change much. Of course I never delete any instances of CC1 or CC11, or CC64 if there are any events. I think in the old days, the program change channel was intended to tell the keyboard what type of instrument it was, if it was strings, brass, etc. Very useful to tell HALion what basic instrument to load, but after I replace each of them with better instruments, I can safely delete it.

So does it really change anything for me, using Cubase in this day and age, all with sampled libraries like Cinesamples, Opus and so on, if I delete all those extra MIDI channels?

Adapting a MIDI file to play successfully on instruments other than the ones it was primarily intended for is always a bit of work, however if they are at least GM-compatible then you should be able to get to a good starting point.

One approach would be to duplicate all tracks and move them into a folder track, muted, as a backup, then start deleting the more exotic, less common CCs until you actually hear a difference, and undo if you want to keep the original – and you can always compare before-and-after with the muted backup.

Most non-standard CCs will do nothing on VSTi, or worse, will do completely different things than were originally intended. It’s always useful to know what device they were originally intended for, and the two main standards beyond GM are those from Yamaha (XG) and Roland (GS) – at least then you can look up what the CCs actually did.

Most VSTi’s won’t be bothered by CCs they don’t respond to anyway, so ultimately there’s no harm leaving those unless you like that sort of cleanup!

Thanks for your reply. It’s good to know that those “exotic” CCs won’t harm VSTis, although I wonder if they have something to do with a problem I’ve been having with Cinebrass Core and Pro, which I bought last weekend, and I’ve been getting instances of brass instruments that get stuck on a note, and the only thing that stops them is to press the mute button inside the Kontakt panel for that instrument.

I still haven’t done too much trial and error on that, however, on one that was going bananas, I loaded all the used CCs, deleted all the events in the ones that I didn’t recognize, and then it stopped doing it. But then it did it on other projects, and a short Google search showed me that this is a bug in that library that has been going on for years, so I don’t know. I hope I don’t have to ask for a refund, because they sound really good, but that doesn’t matter in the end if I’m going to get stuck notes all the time.

Couple of general things about MIDI:

What you refer to as a channel is indeed what is called a message type. Pitch Bend is a message type, NoteOn and NoteOff are also message types. So is ProgramChange, Aftertouch and … CC (which is short for Continuous Controller). These CCs come in 128 different flavours - from CC 0 (commonly named BankSelect MSB) to CC 127 (commonly named Poly Mode On).
All these message types can be send on the same MIDI channel. Each MIDI port has 16 MIDI channels (for 16 different devices or for one device capable of hosting 16 patches or any mix in between)

MIDI messages have names but those names are just propositions what the messages should mean. In reality MIDI data is totally abstract, ie. I could program a synth whose modulation gets controlled by ProgramChange data. I could also program a MIDI device where CC7 changes the colour of the light in my living room instead of volume on a synth. Where the Foot Pedal opens and closes my garage door, and so on.