In this era of affordable recording equipment and software based recording workstations, many artists are choosing to record themselves at home. While it is possible to get very good results in a home studio, often projects are less impressive than they could be, for a number of reasons. There may be technical limitations, equipment problems, or a simple lack of knowledge on the part of the engineer.
On the other hand, if you've spent money and time on your own recording set up, you may be very reluctant to pay a professional to do what you could do yourself, regardless of whether the end result would be better.
There is a third way.
Many well-known artists do demo work at home, then bring those demo tracks to the studio, as a reference. And occasionally, the performance on the demo has a certain magic to it that is impossible to recreate. In these cases, the great performance track is often copied to a new project, and the backing tracks rebuilt in the studio. There are several variations on this idea that can greatly benefit home recordists.
Imagine you have your Pro Tools rig set up, and you have 2 channels of 24 bit A/D converters. You can easily track your acoustic guitar and vocal, and even overdub some bass. But you've decided that you'd really like to have live drums.
While it is possible to record drums with two mics, or to submix the drums down to stereo tracks, you're going to be very limited in what you can with those tracks sonically. You really need to have the kick and snare on their own tracks, with at least two more tracks for the overheads. And if you want room mics, tom mics, maybe a mic on the batter side of the kick, you're really stuck.
So, what can you do? You can buy a new audio interface for $500, and add some quality drum mics for another $500, pick up some stands and cables, and start learning how to record drums (not to mention that you'd likely want some decent outboard compressor/limiters, etc.)
This would make sense if you intend to record drums a lot, but there is another way to do it. You can hire a pro, who has the gear and knowledge to come in and track the drums for you. Basically, you'll spend half a day with the engineer, either at the studio, or if they have a mobile rig, at your place. You get the drums down, transfer the individual tracks into your DAW, and you're done. Now you can track the other instruments yourself, at your leisure.
Another place where bringing in a pro makes sense is during vocal tracking. While it is possible to buy a decent condenser microphone at a reasonable price, recording vocals is truly an art. A high quality mic, mic pre, compressor, and eq will make a huge difference in the overall quality of your finished product.
Lastly, you should seriously consider bringing in a pro for the final mix, even if you've tracked the project entirely by yourself. Having a fresh pair of ears can help you avoid mistakes, and having a knowledgeable engineer will make solving problems much easier. I've heard many many recordings done on home Pro Tools rigs which would have benefitted immensely from having a mix engineer with more knowledge.
The great thing about this "third way" is that it leaves creative control in the hands of the artist, yet produces an end product that is truly professional sounding. And from an economic standpoint, hiring an engineer to spend a few hours with you will be money well spent. Watch what he does, ask questions, learn as much as you can. Few things are as educational as watching a pro work up close.
So, next time you're doing a home project and you hit a brick wall, think about giving me or another pro a call. I can guarantee it will be money well spent!