Thing 2: Magic Mike

You can have a professional recording studio in your laptop.

Actually, you can have a software version of the kind of luxury studio that would have cost millions 20 years ago. You can have compressors, EQs and reverb on every drum. De-essers, chorusing and saturation on each backing singer. For a few dozen pounds or dollars or euros, you can have a replica of an effects box that you heard on a hundred top 40 hits...but which only exists in ten studios because they only made ten of them.

So why do almost all the tracks made in bedrooms still sound crap? Well, two reasons. One, it's one thing to have great bits of kit - it's quite another to know how to use it to make great bits of music.

And two...some hardware can't be reincarnated as software. Like microphones. There's a reason why producers still spend absurd amounts of cash on a vibrating membrane in a metal cage with a fluffy coat. There's a reason there's so much voodoo and bullshit about how this brand of mic has a mysterious magical extra ingredient that the other one doesn't.

Even if they do all the recording onto a hard drive using Cubase or Sonar or Reason, any sounds that come from the real world have to go through a microphone, and all the clever software in the world can only do so much to compensate for a lousy signal.

High noise floor, low top end, 50Hz hum, hiss and crackle - all things which turn a vocal performance into a fuzzy mess. And not the funky kind of fuzzy rock'n'roll mess either.

This is my microphone.

Actually, I've got a dozen or so, but this is the one I use.

Yes, it's from a broken headset, and it's superglued onto the remains of a different broken headset.

And this is the mic from a second one, superglued onto another broken frame.

And this is Mark II of the first one, superglued onto...yes, a third one. If you see what I mean.

You see, some years ago I wandered into a computer shop on the off-chance they might have a decent microphone. What they had were big, hugely padded headsets for GBP10.

They refused to fit, they hurt my ears, they were too quiet, they were made of plastic with somewhat lower tensile strength than the cardboard packaging, and they fell apart in a month.

So I got another one, because the little microphone was bizarrely brilliant. The second headset didn't even last a week.

Some years later, I had a box of old headsets with rubbishy microphones, and a pair of good but rather silly-looking mics with no headsets. And a pair of scissors, and a tube of glue.

The result is either the Lovecraftian abomination of the audio consumer world, or the surprising alternative to spending a few hundred pounds that I don't have.

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