Option 1) Recycle those piles of Pabst cans and buy the crappiest Radio Shack tape recorder you can find. Press the button marked "record." Sing, thwack a tambourine, strum your acoustic guitar with the scruffy Phish stickers on it, whatever. When finished, press "stop." During playback, read Tape Op, Larry Crane's indispensable mag about inventive low-budget recording. Groovin'!
Option 2) Think like Lou Barlow--with a four-track mind. A Tascam Portastudio 414 Mk II ($300) with a Shure SM-57 and/or SM-58 mic ($125 per) should do the trick. Soon you, too, will be a master of microphone placement--hey, I found my amp speaker's sweet spot! I rule! You'll also learn the track-bouncing skills needed to make four measly tracks sound like eight whole tracks of grandeur! Next stop: Olympia!
Option 3) Become a 21st-Century Digital Boy/Girl: Kick down for a digital eight-track. Even a low-end model like Roland's VS-840 will record your crooning with all the crystalline clarity it deserves, and with its host of built-in effects (silvery chorus! Eternal reverb! Fake record-needle crackling!) you'll sound like a million bucks for just $800. Sure, there'll be some inherent compression to all your songs, but look at it this way: It'll just make you sound like you're getting played on KNRK. Thanks, Gustav!
Option 4) Computer geeks, ho! You're not a knob...you just play them on your keyboard. With a cyberpunky Mac iBook ($1,500), Roland PC-300 USB MIDI controller ($200), a software synth (Reason, $300) and recording program (Cubase, $500), you'll become an avant-techno genius in no time! Added bonus: You can easily tote the whole setup to a club, where you can pretend to play your epic glitch-disco trax live! Chicks dig that shit!
Option 5) Go big time: With a 32-channel Mackie mixer ($4,000), a closet fulla fancypants microphones ($200 and up) and pricey vintage reel-to-reel tape recorder ($?!?!), you'll be on your way to becoming the next Phil Spector! Yeah, right. Look, if a pro sound is what you crave, save up some scratch and let Larry Crane, Mike Lastra, Tony Lash, Jeff Salzman, Rob Bartleson or any of a host of other local studio kings do their thing. But in the meantime--for God's sake, write better songs!