As technology gets better and better, I hear this question more and more often. Don't get me wrong, I like Garageband. I use it on my laptop to record demos of my own songs. But it's not the same as going to a professional recording studio and it never will be.....no matter how much the technology improves. Here, in my opinion, is why:
A studio has isolation chambers, high ceilings which help give a room a nice live sound that isn't excessively dead or muddy, and insulation from outside sounds. When I started out recording, I used whatever space I could carry my tape machine and little mixer into. We always had to improvise isolation for the amps and we had to hope that no roommates came home or solicitors knocked on the door during the perfect take. Studios come ready assembled, ready to record, and you won't have to spend time setting all the recording gear up from scratch and break it all back down so the kids can watch TV.
Often times, with home recording, you record the drums first, followed by bass, followed by rhythm guitar, followed by...well, you get the point. A good studio has enough simultaneous inputs, in analog or digital, to record the whole band and singer all at the same time. This not only saves you time, you get a better grooving finished song because it sounds like everyone is playing together...because that's what actually happened. And, because a studio has isolation, when someone messes up, the mistakes can be re-recorded and blended into the mix to make the perfect take. The occasional bass or guitar mistake, for example, isn't bleeding onto the drum tracks.
By recording in a studio, you don’t have to spend time figuring out how to run the software, or what the best mic setup is going to be for the string section you've hired…or how to get the best sound out of a piece of railroad track (something I was once asked to do!) If you can make a sound out of it, a good engineer can record it. Likewise, a good engineer has a great ear – they’ll notice when someone is out of tune or out of rhythm with the rest of the music. Bottom line – you’ll save a lot of time.
With enough time and effort, you can make great mixes at home. But by hiring a professional, you can greatly accelerate this process. Good engineers have the experience and ears to hear what is missing from the mix, what is harsh, how a vocal should sit and how to use compression to make all of the tracks work together.
This statement is BUNK. A good recording engineer can make a great record on just about anything, as long as the songs are great. And really good songs still sound like really good songs no matter how they are recorded. But here's the catch: you're not going to make a record that sounds as good as the new Radiohead album on your laptop. It's not going to sound like Led Zeppelin or Oasis or Ray Charles or Elvis (either one). And let's just say that you are in the position of having songs so good, you're the next Bob Dylan. You still may benefit from having a trained ear, a confidant to bounce ideas off of, and a dedicated space to record in. Or, then again, you might make the definitive record of the teens by packing up your laptop and guitar and heading to Nebraska.