Okay, this "series" of sorts, is a way to help musicians who want to get their music recorded, make it sound good and get it out to the people. Today is going to be the down to earth basics of what you must do to be a home-based recording artist.
So this article is going to be focused on tech and technique and the basic gear you need to start recording. First off:
Most of the people on this website (I assume) play guitar, bass or drums, or your three modern musical standard instruments. No doubt there's also people who play other instruments, but fear not, this article will try to be as broadly accepting as possible.
I'm gonna be blunt: your 100 Squier Strat isn't going to cut it. You need to make sure the instrument you use is to a certain quality so that you can achieve the best sound. A minimum spent on a good guitar for this sort home recording deal should be 350/$550 and upwards, making sure that it's the right guitar for you so you don't spend more money buying more equipment.
Practically all music studios of any kind use a computer (or computers) to record music; it's just the done thing these days. Again, you don't need to spend tons and tons and tons on a high end computer to be able to do this properly, but a 200 Dell desktop from 2007 won't do, and laptops are out of the question (they can't handle the processing at all). A decent desktop ranging from 500 and upwards should do, as long as it has 4GB or more of ram (to handle all the input and output going in and out of the computer).
My computer is a Dell XPS8000, 800, and it can run every program and piece of hardware I need perfectly without problems. One thing to suggest though is this: Do Not Buy A Mac, they only have one added benefit to a PC in this case, and that is the ability to run a certain kind of software (which I'll get onto later). Of course, if you already have a Mac/iMac/Mac Pro (MacBook Pros are adequate too, much better than PC laptops) then don't worry, you can still use them for recording, but you still paid 300% more than you needed to for a computer.
For guitarists/bassists/other musicians using amps, make sure it's of a high quality and more importantly, a valve. Line 6 Spider is a no-no (unless it's the valve). Again, doesn't matter what amp it is, but a decent cab/head combo is at least a smidgen under 1000 (then again, I don't know how many brands do good cheap valve amps).
A Nice Easy Way To Circumnavigate High Amp Prices, Is Searching Online And In Shops For B-Stock Or Used Goods. Most of these goods are factory fresh with aesthetic defects or minor problems that had to be fixed and usually sell for a fraction of RRP if you can find a dealer. Good sites for this sort of thing are the usual: eBay, Gumtree, Craigslist etc. But also try Sweetwater.com, Guitarguitar.co.uk, Guitarcenter.com and Andertons.co.uk (or your local, and order through them).
What's an interface, you may think. A digital interface is the key component to getting your instrument into your computer. An interface comes with the necessary ports needed to direct your signal into your computer, which may just be your normal 1/4'' jack for a direct signal or XLR jack for your microphone (depends on the interface). The interface is also an external soundcard, so you can use it to upgrade the sound coming from your computer for any reason (gaming, just listening to music, etc).
Interfaces vary greatly in price but all of them do the same thing (baring cheaper models), the main difference being the quality in sound, the features they come with and how much of one thing you can do (most cheap interfaces have two "In" ports, either jacks or XLR's, while higher end ones can have up to 8 "In" and "Out" ports). However, even a cheap interface such as the Line 6 UX1 (don't bash, its good) or Digidesign Mbox 3 provide good quality sound.
A DAW is you Digital Audio Workstation. Basically, it's the software you use to record everything in. There are 3 well known pieces of DAW software that the pro's use: Logic Pro, Pro Tools and Steinberg Cubase. These are also all down to preference, although most people will be locked out of using Logic Pro because it is Apple software, so it is only available on Macs.
Logic Pro is the most diverse of the three. You can record, compose, automate Midi, add music to videos, mix, master, loads of things. Is also the easiest software to use, as everything is very openly laid out and the manual is incredibly in depth (it's a few hundred pages long, too). However, it is expensive and (although I don't condone this) very hard to crack, and is limited to Mac's.
Pro Tools takes the basic elements of Logic - Recording, mixing, mastering, or the actual music stuff - and makes it its main focus. Like Logic, it Does have software instruments and Midi control, but is not as expanded in these areas, and is focused more on pure recording. The sound engine (which is, ya know, the sound engine) is also better, so recordings come out sounding nicer than on Logic. It is also cheaper for students: You can have the industry standard for 220 with student discount.
Cubase is rubbish in comparison, but if you don't have enough money for the previous pieces of software, its a good option for those on a budget. You can do the same basic things, more or less, as Logic but you may be limited overall in what you can do in comparison, and the sound isn't great.
Other DAW's tend to be more geared towards composing electronic music (which is not the same thing as music production, so ignore deadmau5). These are Ableton Live, which is very user unfriendly, Reason/Record, which is very very useful as synth software over recording software, and Fruity Loops Studio, which is essentially Baby's First DAW (still competent though).
These are some specific things that are basic and don't need much attention, or will be discussed in later articles:
For those without good amps or are saving money, try guitar emulator software. Most emulators aren't too expensive and are essentially amp modelers inside your computer. The good ones are Pod Farm, TH2 Overloud and Peavey Revalver. Bear in mind, that really good sounding tones require more RAM/CPU and good quality interfaces. The good thing about emulators is their directness: you can just plug in your guitar to your interface and play. The downside is, your tone will be purely digital, which although can sound good, is still a preference factor. Emulators will be discussed later.
Cables are a big thing too: You can never have enough. Depending on how big the size of your room is, 5 to 10 foot cables are good, and you should include XLR-to-XLR cables, quarter inch/guitar cables and shorter speaker cables. To be honest, they're just cables, but make sure to take care of them.
I mentioned "In" and "out" ports: Your "out" will be one of 2 things, or both if you're going for a full band approach. These will be Monitors and Headphones. I have got articles more on this stuff later, so bear in mind that for the best sound, good versions of each will be needed, and to start off with, just get a good set of enclosed headphones, I highly recommend Sennheiser, who have more models than a lads mag.
Microphones: Also play important roles depending on what instrument you play and your budget. Again, I have lots of information on this topic for other article, so don't worry. Just to add, the universal standards for recording electric guitar are the Shure SM57 and SM58 mics (the only difference between the two is preference in sound).
So yeah, more to follow, hope it helped.