It’s not an understatement to say that making music takes a significant amount of work. Outside of the staggering amount of work done by the musicians, there is also the personnel that work alongside the musicians to make the songs and albums possible. As a result of the extensive personnel that work on albums, they can sometimes become exceedingly expensive. Likewise, personal challenges and creative differences between artists can cause the creation of albums to draw on, much at the expense of the record label’s and the artist’s bottom-line. To highlight this fact, I have selected a bakers-dozen of expensive albums, along with a little bit of info as to why these albums were so expensive to make. While these albums might have taken a “small” fortune to make, they can all be listened to for free via Hoopla.
A Night at the Opera [sound Recording] / Queen
Cost: £40,000 
While a seemingly small amount relative to other albums on this list, at the time of its creation, A Night at the Opera was considered the most expensive album that had ever been created. Following a lengthy court case with their previous label, Trident Studios, Queen was in desperate need for some money. While Queen won their court case and was released from their contract, the band members were nearly broke as a result of receiving only sixty-pounds a week from their previous contract. Queen was hungry and desperately needed a chart-topping record if they had any intention on continuing as a band. As a result, Queen went into the studio knowing that if this record was anything less than extraordinary, they would likely have to break up the band. With that in mind, Queen spared no expense in the creation of A Night at the Opera. Thankfully their gamble paid off and the album went on to become a triple platinum record.
Cost: Undetermined, but the song Good Vibrations took $50,000 alone to make. 
This is one with a fair bit of backstory. At the expense of trying to do the story justice, I will be as brief as possible. Following the release of Pet Sounds in 1966, the Beach Boys began to work on a new album called Smile. This album was supposed to be like nothing the world has ever heard at this point, and was advertised just as that. Smile was supposed to be a sonic masterpiece that completely diverged from the earlier works of the Beach Boys and was to outshine even Pet Sounds (which is really saying something, given the fact that even now Pet Sounds is regarded as one of the greatest albums ever made). What instead ended up happening was rampant infighting as other members of the Beach Boys became uneasy with the departure from their tried-and-true surf-rock formula which made them famous. Infighting ensued and with Brian Wilson’s worsening mental health, the album was abandoned. Some songs that were originally made for the album would be released on subsequent albums, but it wasn’t until four decades later that any official version of the album was released. By 2004 the surviving Beach Boy’s weren’t on speaking terms, so Brian Wilson released Smile without the rest of the Beach Boy’s as Brian Wilson Presents Smile.
Cost: Undetermined, but they paid at least $170,000 at the time for a drum machine. 
While it is hard to say for sure the exact price tag of this album, it can at least be assumed that it was a lot. Not only did Steely Dan pay $170,000 for a single drum machine, roughly 1,000 times more than the same instrument would cost now, but they also paid over 40 individual musicians to play on this album. Likewise, Gaucho had nearly the same amount of people working on the production staff. These factors alone would have broken the bank for most bands, but when you include the fact that Steely Dan was in a three-way legal battle with the Music Corporation of America and Warner Bros. over who owns the rights to their music, or the fact that one of the members broke his leg and then got a secondary infection that took six months to clear up, it’s impressive that the album came out at all.
Cost: £250,000 
Here is a great example of an album which cost ballooned as a result of the long recording time and large staff; however, the interesting thing about this album is that regardless of the large staff and multiple studios, the album was mostly recorded by just a handful of people. The biggest reason that only a few people technically did the “work” on the album is because singer and guitarist Kevin Shields wanted to personally direct nearly all facets of the album, to the point where Kevin and singer/guitarist Bilinda Butcher recorded their vocals in a room separate from the audio engineers and would only emerge from the room when Kevin and Bilinda were content with how they thought they sounded. Kevin’s unconventional direction clearly paid off, as Loveless is widely regarded by critics as highly influential in the creation of the shoegaze genre.
Cost: £380,000 
Sometimes bands begin to breakup during the recording of a new album, leading to rising costs and missed deadlines; however, in the case of Happy Mondays’ album Yes Please!, the band was almost broken up before recording even began due to internal conflicts. While the producers of Happy Mondays’ previous album read the writing on the wall and recognized that trying to record a record while half of the members of the band were in the grips of substance abuse disorders might not be conducive to a great work environment, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads were optimistic that they could help the band make a great album. They could not. What their previous producers were afraid of transpired and the three-month long recording session in Barbados devolved into chaos. When the band returned to the United Kingdom, they only had the instruments recorded for the album, requiring them to record for another month. By the time the album was released, Happy Mondays had exceeded the budget provided to them by Factory Records by almost double. This, coupled with the fact that the band New Order, also signed with Factory Records, exceeded their budget too, led to the shuttering of Factory Records.
One Way Ticket to Hell-- and Back
Cost: £1,000,000 
Information about the exact reason this album was so expensive is sparse but there are a few clues that we can look at that might be the reason the album cost as much as it did. First off, The Darkness was aiming to capture a glam-rock/classic-rock sound for this album, so they hired producer Roy Thomas Baker, who worked with bands such as The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Who, and Queen, to name a few. Needless to say, I am sure the producer of the song Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t come cheap. Likewise, recording the album on analogue reels and then having to convert them to digital likely didn’t come cheap either, but this is exactly what The Darkness did during the creation of this album. The Darkness then took these reels and split them up into separate tracks to use on songs, leaving some songs with over 1,000 different tracks. Stretch this entire process out over the duration of a year and you’re left with a very expensive labor of love.
Cost: £1,000,000 
While there was definitely a fair share of band infighting during the recording of this album, the primary reason that this album was so expensive was because of Tears for Fears long production cycle and their use of expensive session players. While the band technically had three members, they were on the hook for the cost of twenty-two additional musicians, along with eleven production staff. The album itself took three years to record, and the entire first year of recordings would eventually be scrapped as members of the band were unhappy with how they sounded. As a result, production costs quickly added up, causing the album to cost fourteen-times more than their previous album.
Cost: $1,000,000 
Although tensions ran high between the band and their new producer (Bob Rock) during the creation of the album Metallica, production of this album was fairly chaos-free and only took seven months. Compared to some of the other albums on this list, seven months is nothing! You might be left asking yourself: “Well if they did it in seven months with relatively little friction, why did it cost so much?” Good question, and the answer is simple: the album was remixed three separate times until Metallica was happy with the sound. As a result, Metallica not only shows a meticulous dedication to their craft, but also demonstrates how driven they were to get this album created. This dedication clearly paid off, as almost all the Metallica songs that still receive airplay on the radio are from this album.
Cost: At least $1,000,000. 
In an effort to make Fleetwood Mac relevant in the post-punk world of the Talking Heads, Lindsay Buckingham wanted Fleetwood Mac to create something that was a complete departure from their previous album, Rumours. To capture that sound, Fleetwood Mac asked their label, Warner Bros. if they could buy a new studio for them to record in. When the label rejected their request, the band decided that they would use the royalties from the previous albums to make their own recording studio. While this move might have been a great way for the band to save money while still getting a new sound, Warner Bros. still charged the band for their recording session, regardless of the fact that they weren’t recorded in a studio owned by Warner Bros. Because they had to pay Warner Bros., on top of the money that they had already spent on constructing a studio, production costs were higher than any other album that they created up to that time.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Cost: Over $3,000,000. 
The cost of this album can be completely chalked up to Kanye West’s unorthodox creative process. Recorded in Hawaii (which I can only imagine is already an expensive place to record in) Kanye West booked three studios’ rooms concurrently twenty-four hours a day so that if he had writer’s block in one room, he could go work in a different room. With the rooms booked twenty-four hours a day, all the studio engineers were also working around the clock. Both of these factors likely made the album cost three times the amount that it probably would have. Along with this, Kanye was paying for a luxury mansion in Hawaii and instead decided to sleep in the chairs at the studio for ninety-minute “power naps,” which along with not being very healthy, probably did not help him save money.
Cost: Close to $5,000,000. 
While some expensive albums languish for years in development and are met with a lukewarm reception, the same cannot be said about Def Leppard’s Hysteria. Hysteria was met with overwhelming success up release, but what is perhaps even more impressive is the perseverance of Def Leppard’s drummer, Rick Allen. During the time that the album was being recorded, Rick Allen was in a highspeed car accident that resulted in his arm being severed. Although doctors were able to initially reattach his arm, it would later be removed due to an infection. While the loss of a limb would be difficult for anyone, as a drummer, amputation could have meant the very end of Allen’s career. But Allen adapted to his new life and with the aid of a modified drumkit was able to return to drumming.
Cost: $13,000,000 
I am no music industry insider, but planning to release an album in 1999 only to have it be released nine years later (2008) does not sound like the most financially responsible idea; but then again, neither does creating a human-sized wire chicken coop for someone to play guitar in. Guns N’ Roses did both of these things while creating Chinese Democracy, leading to one of the most expensive albums ever created. While the chickencoop might not have broken the bank itself, it does demonstrate how far the band was willing to go to create the sound that they were looking for. In this search for the perfect sound, the band also went through a slew of musicians and producers, along with rerecording the entire album at least once. While Guns N’ Roses might have been able to capitalize on the fact that this was their first album since 1993, unfortunately all but three of the fourteen tracks were leaked online, completely diminishing any hype that might have been with the album. Thankfully you can still listen to this album legally on Hoopla and give the band the credit they deserve.
Cost: $20,000,000 Paid to Columbia Records by Virgin Records to buy Carey’s contract, plus another $28,000,000 paid to Carey following Virgin Records buying-out Carey’s contract. 
When it comes to Mariah Carey’s album Glitter, the astonishing cost and the poor commercial reception should easily be chalked up to the way Carey was treated by the press and her label at the time rather than a reflection of her own artistic merits. It would be a significant understatement to say that Carey was under an immense amount of stress in 2001. Not only was she acting and preparing for the release of her movie, Glitter, she was also creating the accompanying soundtrack. As a result of this stress, Carey’s mental health began to be impacted, resulting in what the tabloids and press called a “nervous breakdown”.
As a result of the spotlight being cast on Carey, her mental health challenges continued to worsen, leading to her hospitalization and subsequent diagnosis of Bipolar II. Carey’s mental health challenges became the butt of jokes everywhere, from shock-jock radio to late-night television. All of this attention eventually led to the delay of her movie and the accompanying album. Instead of the album being released in August, as was originally planned, it would be released on September 11, 2001 to absolutely zero fanfare as a result of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The movie would be released two weeks later, during a time when the American public was not seeing movies as frequently as they had been as a result of 9-11. The lukewarm reception to the movie Glitter and its accompanying album, along with the media’s perception of Carey following her hospitalization, led to Virgin Records dropping her and buying out her $100,000,000, five record contract for $28,000,000. Thankfully, the album began to see a resurgence in 2018 as public perception changed towards the retro-pop style music that was on Glitter, leading to the album officially being released to streaming services in 2020.
Information used in this blog post can be found at following websites: