Source material - the recording engineer's holy grail. If something doesn't sound good in real life... you're already screwed. Let me qualify that though, before the flames start flying.
<-- not that holy grail; though it is quite nice
Of course there are tools that can fix things about your recording: autotune, drumagog, beat detective, the list goes on. But even using these very powerful tools requires SOMETHING about the original track to already sound good.
With autotune and beat detective it's the actual tone and performance that stick around regardless of editing. Drumagog on the other hand helps the tone, but that's all.
It is possible to use a whole collection of tools on each track and 'fix' everything about it. But the fact of the matter is that if you do that... you may as well have just recorded it as midi and triggered samples, because what you'll end up with has basically nothing desirable left from the original performance anyway.
Let me take this opportunity to support my other favorite kind or source, open source: Ubuntu is awesome.
Well jim, that's all fine and good, but how do I capture great source material?I'm glad you asked! You use your ears young padawan! If it sounds good in real life, in the real air, it usually sounds good when you get it to tape as well. Of course, that assumes you aren't shooting yourself in the foot somehow along the way, and that the songwriting is good, and also that you have a good mix, panned, eq'd and compressed for optimal clarity and definition.
It a long way to the promise land. Keep on...