I hate to keep beating the same proverbial dead horse, but here we go again. First of all, I'd like to state that the Yahoo Answers feeds we receive are "pushed" to us based on the topic of home recording.
We are not hand-picking these to make a point; there really are that many posts THAT frequently (like every day) asking how to get started doing home recording with the least money, or some variant of that theme. Today's Q&A is no different. The person asking the question wrote three sentences and used the terms money and cheapest. One might almost be led to believe there is a theme here, mostly because there IS.
The other part of this repeating pattern is the answer part, which usually advises the newbie to spend upwards of $1,000 or more just to get started. Today's reply, however, happily breaks that pattern. Though short on details, it is the answer we would have given, which is basically to use your computer as mixer, editor, composer, and storage. The original Q&A is below. See the end of the post for the Home Brew Audio answer.
Q: What kinds of things are absolutely necessary for home recording studios? Just the essentials, and why? I'm planning on making a home recording studio, but I don't have much money. And, what's the cheapest way to go? : )
A: It depends on what you want to do. If all you want to do is capture analog, then just need a mixing board with a few inputs. Check out music shops in area for used and sale specials. If want to author music and produce electronically, then you will need computer and software such as Cakewalk, Ovation, etc. Also check same places for these too.
Much more details are going to be needed on what it is that you want to do with your home recording studio. Technically, the bare minimum would be a tape recorder since it can record 2 tracks (left and right) and a way to get signals into the recorder.
You obviously already have a computer, you should consider using it as your mixer, editor, composer, and storage. Everything else can be brought in via firewire / usb dongles (converters). Your mixer channel ability will be limited only by the speed of your processor, the number of raw inputs, and the size of your drive to store the results. That might be the most cost effective way, as well as the most capable way in long and short runs. But, you will never be able to record to analog media (tape) without distortion from the converting digital signal back to analog.
Here is the Home Brew Audio answer:
To start with, please, please, PLEASE do NOT spend much more than about$100 to start out! And do NOT buy a mixer! (see our article Why You Should Not Use A Mixer In Your Home Recording Studio for more on that). I know that may sound too good to be true. But trust me. It is.
Yes, you'll probably want to add equipment and software as you develop a need for them. But if you are just learning you can do all you need to (learn multi-track recording, basic audio editing, and production) with an average computer and any mic (even the cheap plastic computer mics will do).
If you don’t have a mic, you can get a pc mic for about $5.00. Then you can get recording software that is free - called Audacity. That’s all you need for the learning part. You can do quite a lot with just this equipment with a little skill and guidance.
I would stop short, however, of saying you could produce pro quality audio with just that. So how much do you have to spend to actually start producing that pro quality audio? I’d say about $59. Sounds crazy, I know. but it's true. Just moving from a $5.00 mic to, say, this USB mic: Samson Q2U - will allow you (again with the right skills) to turn out audio quality that I would call “minimum professional level.”
To learn about moving on from there, and all the accessories you'll want, etc. - basically a sort of shopping list - check out our 5-part post series How To Build A Home Recording Studio.