If you're an ambitious new band that's thinking about making a record, forget the producer. The whole notion that you even need a producer to make a record is a bad excuse to drop money unnecessarily. The Shins recorded themselves, as did Unwound and Death Cab For Cutie. Recording has become super-cheap and easy. The sooner you learn about it, the faster you'll be able to make songs sound good yourself, and you can save your money for fast cars and cheap prostitutes.

To learn the basics of recording techniques, get an internship with a studio like Avast, or volunteer at the Vera Project and learn hands-on how to do sound for live shows. It will teach you the basics about different microphones, like where to place them and what works and what doesn't. It will also get you familiar with a variety of different instruments and musical styles. The Art Institute offers recording classes too, but I've met a ton of former students-turned-producers who say the school is worthless and overpriced.

Equipment-wise, get a four-track tape machine. They're about $99 at Guitar Center, or, if you're lucky enough to own a computer, go to www.digidesign.com and download a free version of ProTools software. (The argument about what's better, analog or digital, is another story.) ProTools opens up a whole new world of options, like looping beats and editing out mistakes. Be careful, though, because it can suck the life out of your song as well. It's like the old saying goes: If you paint with too many colors, all you're gonna get is black.

Once you have a decent microphone and a tape machine or computer, think about getting a compressor and some sort of minimal effects processor. (ProTools has some built-in effects, like reverb and distortion.) Emerald City Guitars and Al's Guitarville will give you great deals on used gear; Trading Musician doesn't barter nearly as much. Also, get a subscription to TapeOp magazine to learn recording secrets from pros like Steve Albini and Phil Ek, so you can steal all their good ideas and put them to use on your brilliant debut.