It used to be that recording your music meant expensive studio time and hours burned begging some pizza-eating knob-twiddler to take the '80s delay off the vocals. Well, those men with beaver-pelt haircuts have been left twiddling their own knobs because, friends, we are in the Golden Age of Home Recording. And while 21st-century capitalism may be a race to the bottom, home-recording gear is paying off in spades. Prices are down, quality is up, and many music stores give you months to pay everything off—so get on board, junior! Even if you can't get it new, there's plenty of used gear to go around.
First things first. You need something to dump your music onto. Use your home computer! With the right software, like Cakewalk Home Studio ($90—all prices approximate) or Cubase VST 32 ($550), your little porn machine can become your little honker. You might have to spend dough at Radio Shack to plug your guitar into those little holes in your sound card, or you can buy a new sound-card unit that's more instrument-friendly, like Echo's Darla ($300) or the MOTU 2408MKII ($1,000). On a computer, editing is easy, and if you're producing electronica or hip-hop, the amount of tools available to you far outweighs the dorkiness of rocking out at your workstation.
If you don't have a computer and you're making loop-based music, picking up a Roland SP808EX Groove Sampler ($1,400) is a great place to start. It lets you sample loops, create beats, and record yerself over it all. Rockers will appreciate the Roland VS840GX ($1,000; I'm not in Roland's pay here, they just make some good stuff), a digital 8 tracker that makes guitars sound good—not as good as 2-inch magnetic tape, but hey, we're working on a budget here.
Speaking of budget, buy a Shure SM57 microphone. What duct tape is to life, the SM57 is to home recording. It's cheap, it sounds snappy on vocals—downright amazing when shoved into your speaker cone—and it'll take whatever damage you deal it. And while you'll undoubtedly patch into your home stereo to see how your mix sounds through real speakers, working with decent headphones is a must, lest your neighbors be driven to murder after hearing the same drumbeat three days straight. I've had a pair of Sony MDR7505s ($80) for three years and love them, but anything in that price range should do the trick.
There ain't enough space here to touch on everything. To learn more, check out homerecording.about.com or pick up Wilkinson's Anatomy of a Home Studio. Who knows? Pretty soon, it might be your shitty CDs that I'll be having to review here!
Mark Driver's comments have been provided for those seeking an alternative to studio recording. For those who aren't, see Chat Room.