So you've written a sweet song, and like a true rock star you want to record your work. Luckily for you, even you don't have much cash, you can still make a decent recording using your computer. One of the most important things needed for good recording is a good microphone. There are many great microphones out there for recording, including some specialized for computer recording. Even on a budget, there is a plethora of options to get musicians on the path to making a great recording. However, there are some basic questions you need to consider before making your mic purchase.
What will you be recording?
Recordings could be as simple as a solo keyboard or electric guitar or as complicated as a full band. If you are planning on recording an instrument like acoustic guitar or vocals, you will likely need to invest in a decent microphone. There are different types of microphone, mainly categorized as either dynamic or condenser. For things like voice or acoustic guitar, condenser mics are much preferred because they capture more of the complete sound of a room. However, dynamic microphones may be more versatile and don't require phantom power to operate. Phantom power is a voltage that needs to be supplied by a pre-amp for some microphones to work.
However, for those who want to invest for far superior quality, there are several options. Firstly, there are microphones specialized for computer recording that plug right into your computer's usb port. Before buying these, it's important to check their compatibility with whatever recording program you're using. A list of available usb microphones is available through a great online music store called Musician's Friend. From experience, I will vouch for the MXL 990 usb microphone as a great relatively inexpensive usb condenser microphone, at $99.95. The great thing about this mic is that it come with a little stand and a sturdy case. The sound quality is great, and from my experience it's pretty reliable. The MXL 990 can be purchased from Musician's Friend. If you're on a tight budget, Nady makes a usb mic that only costs $31.95. It too can be purchased from Musician's Friend.
If you need your microphone to be very versatile, you may want to invest in a dynamic microphone. These can be great for micing things like guitar amps or drums. A great, fairly cheap dynamic mic is the Shure SM57. It is considered to be "the industry standard" and is a great general-use workhorse microphone. They cost about $99 new, but they are so popular that it is fairly easy to find a used one for cheaper. Another great feature of the Shure SM57 is it's solid build. It's a very sturdy mic that can survive a few drops or kicks. If you want a cheaper option, Behringer makes some incredibly inexpensive microphones that only cost about $25 each. These might be good if you are on a tight budget but your project requires lots of microphones. Quality wise, they are not up to par with Shure, and are built with more questionable quality.
Condenser mics as previously mentioned are great for recording things like vocals and acoustic guitar, and can really capture the richness of sound you experience when you're playing live. Condenser mics can run up over $8000, but there are several affordable options as well. For an affordable option, MXL makes a version of the 990 (as previously mentioned) without usb capability. This mic only costs $70, making it a great coice for someone on a budget. For a step up in quality, Studio Projects makes a fantastic condenser mic called the B3. It retails for under $150 and sounds very good. More info on tis quality mic can be found at Studio Project's website.
Built-in Computer Mics
Some computers come with basic microphones, but generally the quality of these is very poor and they are apt to clip or distort easily when you are recording. If you're really desperate and just want to use the little mic that came with your computer, you can cover it with a sock. As strange as this sounds, it prevents some of the clipping problems that are commonly found when recording with these mics. With this method you can get some rough recordings down.
Lastly, it's important to make sure the mic you buy will work with your recording set-up. Condenser mics will likely also require a pre-amp with phantom power, so it's important to consider these costs as well when purchasing a mic. Good luck and enjoy your next recording project!