While recording music in a professional studio will yield the best quality results, the cost of purchasing studio time can be prohibitively expensive. Luckily, thanks to falling equipment prices, high quality recordings can be made for a fraction of the cost of studio time and, depending on what you're recording, can be done from the comfort of your own home.
What you'll need for home recording is dependent upon what you'll be recording. For just about any type of recording, you'll need a computer with audio editing software. There are a number of suitable, free programs for recording music, such as GarageBand, which comes with all Apple computers, and Audacity. For more advanced -- and pricier -- software, check out Logic, Reason, Cakewalk, and Pro Tools.
For recording vocals and acoustic instruments (i.e. anything that doesn't require an amplifier), you'll need a microphone to record. Look for a condenser mic, which is a highly sensitive microphone used specifically for recording, as opposed to a dynamic mic, commonly used for live performances. (See Backstage’s guide to podcasting for more about microphones.)
For electric instruments, such as electric guitars and keyboards, there are two methods for recording. The simplest is to use a microphone to record the sound coming from the amplifier. Another method is to use an audio interface. An audio interface will allow you to plug your electric instrument directly into your computer, and many designed specifically for guitars will mimic the sound of a large variety of amps.
If you're recording yourself alone -- singing with an acoustic guitar, for example -- the recording process will be considerably easier than recording with a group playing different instruments (a band with guitars, brass, and drums). The greater the number and types of instruments you're recording with, the more complicated the process will be.
For the simplest recording set up, you can place a condenser mic between the instruments (or, if using electric instruments, between the amplifiers) and record everything together in one track. But this “live sound” method will require lots of adjusting, repositioning, and trial and error to achieve the best sound, and you won’t be able to adjust any of the instruments' volumes independently once you've finished.
Recording each track separately will give you a lot more freedom in the editing process and will allow you to adjust the volume levels of each instrument separately. It will also give you options to pick and choose different takes from each instrument, rather than re-recording the entire ensemble because of one mistake. Of course, this method requires a huge amount of coordination and will take a lot of practice to perfect. Use a metronome to make sure each track is at the same tempo; most music recording software will have a click track for this purpose. Recording the drums first will also help lay down a rhythmic foundation. Using headphones in this process is a must -- although hearing what is being recorded is important with any method.
Creating your own DIY recordings is a challenging and time consuming venture. Regardless of what you're recording, you'll need to record multiple takes, experiment with different methods, and tinker with your equipment for the best results.