It all started when Gizmodo ran this piece showing how to build a studio for $5,000. Then I ran this piece saying you could do it for £500. But, really, you don't need to spend that much. The trick is, you don't need to buy everything at once. This is how I'd do it, if I was starting again from scratch. The rules: Like last time I'm assuming you have a decent PC or Mac (1ghz, 256mg ram), a home stereo (for monitoring) and a pair of headphones. This time, you'll also need to use the built-in soundcard, with the output plugged into the stereo.
Stage 1: Sofware: £27-£45
All you need is software. These all-in-one studio programs will let you do everything. You only need to spend more money if you want to record a real instrument or play a real keyboard. Free VST instruments and effects from here.
Option 1: Energy-XT, Jørgen Aase's radical modular audio/midi sequencer (which, despite the name, isn't just for ravers) does most of what Cubase or Logic can do, but very differently. Free download, then €39 (£27) if you use it.(PC only)UPDATE: Tracktion 1 is now free!
Option 2: Tracktion, the British-designed audio/midi sequencer can also do almost anything Cubase or Logic can do, but uses a simple, clever interface, making it very quick to learn. It costs $80 (£45). The demo lasts two weeks. (Mac/PC) <
Stage 2: Keyboard £40-70
Even if you can't play piano, you'll soon want to buy a keyboard. It's much more fun than drawing the notes on screen. You don't need a separate MIDI interface – modern controller keyboards are all USB compatible. The cheapest one is the Evolution E-Keys, a pretty crappy mini-keyboard with a USB plug that costs £40. For £70, the M-Audio Keystation 49e is a better bet and also works as a MIDI interface.
Stage 3: Recording guitar: £35
The easiest way to get a quarter-decent guitar sound is to use a multi-fx pedal. Even a £30 second hand Zoom 505 will sound better than plugging your guitar straight into the soundcard (it boosts the signal like a pre-amp). You'll need a cable to connect jacks to minijacks. Griffin Garage Band Cable looks nice but is appaling value at $24.95. Studiospares sell a stereo-minijack-to-two-mono-jacks lead for £4.98.
This guide and this guide explain the process better.
Stage 4: Recording anything else £Free-£105
Option 1: If your soundcard has a 'mic' input, you can use any microphone that doesn't need phantom power. Kieran Hebden from Four Tet uses the free mic that came with his soundcard in all his recordings. You can make interesting recordings with any microphone, so it's probably not worth spending more than £10 on a 'proper' microphone unless you've got £105 for...
Option 2: If you want a proper mic, you need a pre-amp that will provide phantom power, I'd buy a Behringer MIC100, which is a valve pre-amp for £30(!), and a Kel Audio mic for $69. You then need a standard £10 mic cable, this cable (again) to get into your soundcard, and a standard microphone stand for £15.