I can't see how even $26,000 would be enough for a *single* symphony, if you actually want to pay the musicians. A 20 minute symphony would take at least a day of rehearsal and half a day of recording. You'd want to pay each musician a fair wage of at least several hundred dollars for each day (if you think this is too much, remember that they're self-employed, have to own a very expensive instrument, years if not decades of expensive training, and hours and hours of unpaid practicing are also included). Multiply that by the dozens of musicians required for even a modest symphony, and you're already nearing that amount, without actually paying anyone to record and edit it! I'm very curious how they've budgeted this...
And for the smaller-scale things, $1000 is truly a paltry sum, unless you sell it to the musicians as if you're recording their demo for free...
I guess they have something figured out, but I don't see what it could be!
Yes, people do this. I think it's often not a good idea. Tuning every note to a tuner, watching a little dial moving around can be for for learning the tendencies of your instrument - it's good to know that, on one particular saxophone, a given Bb fingering is a little sharper than another, for example. However, there are a few big problems with it: one is that it trains you to associate a visual event (the needle) with your tuning technique, whereas in real performances, you use your ears. A better practice technique would be to match tones with a fixed pitch. Some tuners do this, and some people use it this way, but most people just use the meter. The other big problem with tuners is that they generally aren't even that accurate. I've run into many problems with tuners, (fairly expensive Korgs, for example) and found all sorts of just plain mistakes it makes. Testing it against a more accurate sound source, like a computer, can be illuminating.
Finally, the tuner assumes that you're tuning equal temperament and nothing else. Sure, a lot of music from the last century or so somewhat assumes equal temperament, and sure, you'll often be playing with a piano or another instrument tuned this way, but in a real performance, you can and SHOULD adjust notes to match the harmonic/melodic context of them. In other words, if you finish a piece on a C major chord, and you're playing the E, unless there's a very prominent E played by a piano that you must match, your E should be much lower than the tuner would tell you for it to be in tune. Most players do these kinds of adjustments automatically, but training for hours with a little electronic box that is ignorant of all this can get in the way.
A better way to practice tuning is to have a machine (computer, tuner, pipe organ, etc) play held notes, and then you use your ear to tune other notes to it. Maybe playing a whole scale, listening carefully to each note to match it to the drone. You might be surprised at how you put some notes at different places from the tuner! Or even different places depending on which drone you're tuning to! This is the way it should be.
And I've also played saxophone for almost 20 years, and now tune harpsichords for a living... I've thought about tuning a lot! It's a big, and often misunderstood subject.