My next lesson I’ve learned from my home-recording endeavors, is to just go for it because there’s no other way to learn.
By all means, use books as a guide. I got the Dummies one, and I got a very good one on mixing as well, which I still need to read. And as you do that, go for it and don’t be intimidated. You might as well just throw yourself in the deep end, because that’s the main way you’re going to learn at home-recording. (Of course, don’t rule out music engineering school if you have the time and money etc…)
Now having said that, keep in mind you’re going to sound like an amateur, and you’re going to sound like an amateur because you are one AND because if you’re just home-recording as a hobby, your songs won’t be professionally mastered anyway.
Yes, we want to sound like our rock-star heroes but if you want to think about comparing yourself with them realistically for a second, consider the fact that you’re competing not with just one artist or band (who are professionals), but with a team of professionals helping them who also happen to own lots of very expensive equipment.
Each song I do helps me to figure out how I can try to make the next one better. I then look back on my earlier songs and squirm, and I think that will always be the case. But if I didn’t tackle them head on, then I simply wouldn’t have learned anything (and it’s still a struggle, because it’s very easy to procrastinate with a task that’s overwhelming and there’s not guarantee you’ll feel happy with it at the end anyway).
And you learn from every part of the process, whether it’s the actual songwriting process, the way you arrange each part, perform each part (percussion and vocals are my main weaknesses), record each part, then mix them, add compression, EQ, effects, panning, levels and finally mixing down to a stereo mp3 track. (I’ve even learned some lessons about compressing to mp3 because if done poorly can really sound tinny and awful).