||What hardware / software do you use?
It seems like everybody asks this question. My only concern in answering is that somebody is going to go out and buy stuff, as though if you only had the right gear you could bang out a great song in an hour or two. My philosophy is similar to what has been said about many great achievements: 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Or is it 1% vs 99%? Yeah, maybe that.
I believe that everybody has inspiration, or can have if they listen. The keys to creating good stuff are understanding the concepts (knowing the building blocks) and putting in the long hours of work. And understanding the concepts comes from long hours of work.
I'll go as far as to say that putting in the hours of work is not just part of the process, it IS the process.
THAT BEING SAID, you can probably predict that my list is going to be made up of simple, inexpensive items that get the job done while allowing me the greatest degree of control and flexibility. I don't want or need a lot of expensive nonsense to do the job for me... I want to do it myself!
Microphones - For vocal recording I use an Audio Technica AT4033/CL studio mic. I specifically chose this mic because I got two of them for free from an A/V installation company I used to work for. They had been sitting on a shelf in the warehouse for several years; part of a special order that never went through. I asked if I could buy them, and they just told me I could have them. I think the retail on these was about $350 each, so that's pretty awesome.
Recording - I'm currently using a neat little box that I bought in the summer of 2010, called the Zoom H4N. It's a portable digital recorder with 2 XLR inputs and 2 on-board mics, for a total of 4 channels of simultaneous recording. It records directly to an SD card in wav or mp3 formats at a wide variety of resolutions. It can run for 6 or 8 hours on a set of high performance AA batteries, and also comes with a dc adapter. Furthermore, it can be powered via USB. Speaking of USB, while plugged into a computer as a USB device it can function as a direct digital audio input. I don't use this because my recording room is not the same room where I do my editing, but it's handy for the right application. This is one of my favorite pieces of gear I've ever owned. I think it cost around $300.
Editing Software - I do almost all my editing in Sony Vegas Video. Yes, it's a full-featured video editing package, but it has awesome audio support including a bazillion filters, effects, etc. I can also use Vegas to record audio straight into the software using the H4N, as mentioned above. PowerTracks (mentioned below) also has pretty decent audio support, but nothing compared to Sony Vegas. Of course it costs a lot less as well. Vegas costs about $400 to buy straight up, and then there are upgrades every year or two for around $160. I highly recommend Vegas if you're going to get into serious video editing, but there are probably cheaper ways to go if you're only interested in audio.
Music Composing - My primary tool for composition is PowerTracks. The cost is ridiculously low and the features are adequate. I don't play any instruments, so all my tracks are entered one click at a time, in a window that looks like standard music notation. My background is in choral music, so I'm comfortable with notation. BUT the ability to print sheet music from PowerTracks is severely limited. I think the cost is about $69.
Sheet Music Printing - When I need to print actual production quality sheet music I go to an old DOS program called MusicPrinter Plus. The fact is, it still does what I need it to, so why should I upgrade? I have looked at a few modern programs but have not ever been so impressed that I felt the need to spend more money. This cost $300 new, but that was in the mid-90's.
Instrumentation - To create the instrument sounds I need, I use two separate approaches. The first is an old hardware MIDI sound module, the Emu Proteus/1. It's just a standard bank of typical rock band sounds. A lot of them sound kinda 80's, but I have no problem with that. The second route I use is Garritan Personal Orchestra as a DXI plugin with PowerTracks. GPO is an amazing collection of real orchestra samples, with controls for various intonations of the different instruments and techniques for creating a large, realistic orchestral sound. While this is by no means a plug-and-play solution, the results can be satisfying when you put in the time to learn to use the controls effectively. I bought the Proteus/1 off eBay for like $25. GPO might have cost around $150.
That's it. I operate on a standard grade PC with a large monitor. I am always buying more hard drives.