Creative Accounting: Unnamed Flaming Lips album

M. Rebekah Otto
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Music production is a cost-intensive project requiring complex tools (magnetic tape and multi-effects processors) and skilled practitioners (record producers). The following numbers reflect the budget from a Flaming Lips album released by Warner Bros. and recorded over forty-five days.

The budget is split into three categories: recording costs, equipment, and post-production. Recording costs encompass renting the studio, paying the producer, moving and housing the band, as well as the tape on which the record was recorded. The equipment is much more nuanced, as diverse processors, software, and instruments must be purchased. (Equipment is either kept by the band for future projects or by the record producers for their studio.) The last step of mastering the album is the intricate process that transforms music into what we hear when we buy a record. In some cases, a record budget may be accounted for after the recording has been completed and the project financed, thus some of the figures may seem oddly even.

In the past decade many influences have changed the way music is made and paid for. As CD sales have dropped, record labels cut the funds that fuel most records. As a result, there has been an increase in home studios for mastering (previously unheard of) and other changes to make the process cheaper for the artists. With equipment as well, it is difficult to determine the current equivalents of the pieces purchased. Though these processors and computers would be cheaper now, their up-to-date counterparts would be more expensive due to inflation. To simplify these problems, we used a standard inflation rate for the budget we were given. Because of the inflation rate, some of the numbers do not add up precisely.

This is the second installment of Creative Accounting, an ongoing series that will show where the money goes for the major creative industries—film, book publishing, television, fine art, theater, and music. The series will eventually be collected into a single, indispensable volume, published by Believer Books.

—M. Rebekah Otto


Recording costs $126,764.13

Studio Time $65,340

  • 45 days — $1,452/DAY 

Apartment $2,904

  • 45 days — $64.53/DAY

2″ tape $1,188.28     

6 REELS — $198.05/REEL

  • 2″ magnetic tape can record a wide range of frequencies and pitches and is used particularly to record drums and bass in order to capture the whole sound and create a “fat analog sound.” A smaller tape captures only part of the sound.

DATs, $264.06

20 TAPES — $13.20/TAPE

  • Digital Audio Tape is typically the last step in the recording process, when the final cut is transferred to CD. However, it can also be used to capture sampled sounds throughout the recording process.

½” tape $422.50

8 REELS — $52.81/REEL

  • Once many tracks have been recorded, this smaller magnetic tape is used to condense the 2″ tape into fewer tracks without losing sound quality.

Per diem $5,346.26

45 DAYS — $39.61/day × 3 PEOPLE

  • Record labels often pay band members a guaranteed rate per day of recording.

Phone $1,320.31

Food $1,320.31

Dave Fridmann (record producer) $38,619.00

  • A record producer works with musicians to create the sound for an album. Many producers have distinct sounds due to their tools and their personal strengths. Fridmann is known for his expansive sound, and his drum sound in particular.
  • Tax $10,038.41

Equipment $23,575.40

Macintosh computer $4,621.09

1400c 32/1 gig/6X — for sequencing and sample editing

Sequencing and sample-editing software $1,320.31


  • This software is built for post-production 2-track editing. Once all tracks have been recorded, a producer can select parts to loop or mutate with effects within this program.


  • This software is similar to Peak (but was popular when this particular album was made).

Studio Vision Pro

  • The final step in the production process, this program helps arrange and sequence an entire song.

Multi-effects Processors $8,276.03

Effects processors modify sound during or after recording. The signature effects are echo, reverb (sounds like it’s coming down a hallway), and phaser (sounds like a jet passing by).

Eventide 4000 — $4,621.09

  • A studio standard, this multi-effects processor has a wide range of capabilities.

Boss SE-70 — $830.48

  • This is meant particularly for a guitar and adds the ability to pan (move sound from speaker to speaker).

Lexicon MPX-1 — $1,241.09

  • This processor has a variety of reverb options, for example one can make the music sound like it is reverberating in a bathroom or a hallway or a closet with the same tool. Additionally, it can add reverb simultaneously with other effects to the same sound.

2-Lexicon PCM-42 DDL — $1,584.37

  • This unique guitar-effects processor enables tape saturation, which makes a richer sound by layering recordings on top of each other, an essential part of the Flaming Lips’ sound.

AKAI DR8HD — $6,337.50

  • This is a hard-drive recorder with video and SMPTE
    (a time-marking method developed by the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers to synchronize the recording process).

Opcode Studio 4 MIDI Guitar Interface  $513.60

  • MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) enables any instrument to play as another instrument, so a guitar becomes a trumpet. In particular this interface synchronizes the inputs of multiple guitars and instruments into SMPTE time code.

Roland G-10 MIDI Guitar Interface $1,120.94

  • This MIDI tool enables a guitar to mimic a synthesizer, drums, and keyboards, even brass and bass.

dbx 160S Stereo Compressor $1,584.37

  • Compressors smoothly move recorded tracks onto smaller tape while maintaining the sound quality.  They can also be used to affect the sound of the music, particularly the drums.

Tannoy PBM-8 $3,654.64

  • 4 SETS OF WOOFERS — $913.66/PAIR For studio monitoring.

Tax $1,846.92

Post-Production $8,000.00

Mastering costs $8,000.00

  • The final step in producing a CD is to “master” it, usually at a mastering facility with different tools than a recording studio. Like polishing a jewel, mastering specialists tinker to bring out details while also equalizing the sounds, so that the music sounds smooth out of any type of speakers. Typically, artists use a different person to record and mix the album than to master it, to bring fresh ears to the project.

GRAND TOTAL $158,338.53

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