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Paisley Park Studios

There is a park that is known for the face it attracts

Since 1983, Prince rented werehouses around Minneapolis where to conduct tour rehearsals with his backing band. The first was a former pet food distribution facility at 6651 Highway 7, St. Louis Park, for which Prince and the Revolution used to rehearse for the Purple Rain Tour. Nicknamed The Warehouse, the facility also received a recording credit for two songs of the Purple Rain album. Prince then bought a larger facility outright for $450,000 in May 1984, at 9025 Flying Cloud Drive in Eden Prairie, and completed the recording of Around The World In A Day there throughout the summer and autumn of 1984. Prince planned to demolish this warehouse and build a larger self-contained complex of studios named Paisley Park, after the song inspired about his penchant for paisley print, but the site proved too small for purpose and was near the prying eyes of the city. Therefore, a larger site was procured off highway 5 in the quiet suburb of Chanhassen, 22 miles from the centre of Minneapolis.

Prince commissioned Bret Thoeny, 23-year-old architect at the firm of BOTO Design Inc of Santa Monica California, to draw up the blueprints to accommodate a fully operational studio complex. Construction got underway in January 1986 in building 7801 Audubon Road, Chanhassen, a vast 65,000sq ft recording, rehearsal space and filming facility, as well as Prince’s home, and offices for his newly formed Paisley Park Records which also shared the facility’s name.

Big white mansion

Complete with two fully fitted out recording studios, a rehearsal space and soundstage, the complex was built by local construction firm Bossardt-Christenson. Its grey concrete exterior walls was clad in white aluminium panels giving it an unassuming appearance, bearing the property closer resemblance to a chemical plant than the recording studio and principal home of the one of the world’s leading stars (the white exterior is lit purple at night). Yet since November 1986, Prince had been living at a secluded 30-acre woodland estate 7141 Galpin Blvd, Chanhassen, sharing a home with his fiancee Susannah Melvoin. She remained there as the construction of Paisley Park progressed, and while Prince spent much of 1986 in France filming Under The Cherry Moon and at LA to record its soundtrack Parade at Sunset Sound.

It was not until 11 September 1987 that Paisley Park became officially operational, even then work on the studios was not fully complete until 1988. By its completion, the final bill of the construction ran to a cost of $10m, fully funded by Prince himself due to his exploding commercial success. The complex comprises of two main recording studios, each built to Prince’s specifications. The largest, Studio A, is 45ft wide by 75ft long and 16ft high and encloses 1,500sq ft, it is formed of one large live room and two isolation booths (one with walls of wood to enhance live acoustic, and the other, larger booth is lined in granite for digital sound), and a sound-locked control room which since 1993 contains a state-of-the-art SSL 8088 C+ Ultimation console in upgrade of the original 6000E-64 Total Recall console. Studio B is of a simpler arrangement; 1,000sq ft, 45ft wide by 55ft long, consists of a live room and one vocal isolation booth. Studio B’s sound-locked control room houses the custom-built console transferred from the former Galpin Blvd home studio – this studio underwent restoration in 2005. Studios A and C are separated by a corridor, decorated with a large Samuel Jennings mural. This corridor terminates at a door leading outside to the walled parking lot. The third studio, Studio C, is a band rehearsal room 32ft wide by 45ft in length, furnished with a floating wooden dance floor, mirrored wall and projection facilities, it has a small control room equipped with a Midas Venice 320 console (upgrading in 2005 the original Soundcraft TS-24 console). A digital audio workstation (DAW) for the production and editing of digital audio was added in 1993 and became Studio D. Since Lovesexy, Prince would record and mix all his albums, either in full or at least part at Paisley Park, right up until his death in 2016.

So comprehensive are the facilities, the studios were also available for hire, until 1996, to help Prince finance the annual $6m running cost. Its early clients included Madonna, recording Like A Prayer here in 1989, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, R.E.M. and Paula Abdul. Prince’s living quarters was sited conveniently close and occupied much of the upper floor of the complex. A sound engineer was kept on permanent standby to allow Prince to record at his whim day or night (the main floor does not have many windows for this reason, as well as to guarantee privacy). An elevator provided direct access between Prince’s private upper floor living area and the recording studios on the ground floor – the elevator in which he was found dead on the morning of 21 April 2016.

Paisley Park Studios
Paisley Park atrium

Visitors arrive through the main lobby, a dayroom is located on the right. Passing the reception area on the left and to its right the main stairway to the upper floor. Continuing under a mural of Prince’s eyes (to see everyone who comes in) the main hallway, lined with framed platinum and gold disks (chronologically ordered), lead to the centrepiece of the complex – the atrium (the elevator is in a corner recess in the right-hand wall of the main entrance hallway edging the atrium). Naturally lit by four large pyramid-shaped skylights, the atrium is overlooked on three sides by the second floor balconies of the upper living area. The floor of the atrium is of white marble and inset with a large black Prince love symbol at its centre. The wall décor is colourful and the upper portion is painted to resemble the sky. The space is flanked by pillars along its left, behind which are the former administration offices, abutting the one exterior windowed wall. In more recent years these offices were redecorated to incorporate a theme. The office corridor starts at a small lobby sealed off by glass doors. Behind this are three good sized but nondescript offices, each with windows. Next are the four offices converted into themed rooms, each having doors opening directly into the atrium. The first is a small cupboard sized windowless room themed as Dirty Mind. The slightly larger room next door, also windowless, is Controversy. The next two rooms are larger and windowed, Parade and Sign O’ The Times. The themed rooms chime with Prince’s grand vision to ultimately turn Paisley Park into a museum. The next is a double length room known as the Knowledge Room and was Prince’s study room, its walls are lined with gold foil and is furnished by large purple chairs and a sofa, it has an oval glass meeting table and a desk, there is a small adjoining restroom. The final room in the corridor is Studio D. The main corridor ends at the rear lobby, where Prince kept his custom made grand piano as well as the original painting of which he featured on the cover of The Rainbow Children. This lobby leads out to the parkland and an oval outbuilding known as The Egg. This is unfinished and remains an empty two storey shell, its function was likely for increased storage space, it has an underground drive-in garage.

Along the atrium’s furthest side is the main technician’s room (named Lovesexy), next to this is a small dark room named The Black Album. The interior right-hand side of the atrium comprises one long room accessed by three sets of double doors. In the left of this room is the dining facility complete with two 1950’s diner-style table booths; the kitchen sits in the adjoining room behind. The right-side of the dining room sits a large TV and sofa. Next door is a second TV lounge with sofa, an ante-chamber giving access to Studio B. This room is called The Galaxy Room, so named because of its ultraviolet purple lighting – this is where Prince relaxed with friends.

The upper floor is accessed by two stairs, a rear staircase and the main one, both lead to Prince’s apartment. Taking the main entrance stairway and arriving on the landing, serviced also by the elevator, the upper floor begins at the dove cage. Prince’s two doves Divinity (female) and Majesty (male), both now deceased, occupied this cage that overlooks the atrium. Left of the main stairs and continuing along the corridor clockwise and encircling the atrium, upstairs begins with conference room which occupies the corner of the building over the ground floor reception. This room contains a large glass conference table complete with ten chairs and sideboard. At the far end of this room sits a large semi-circular white sofa. In the room’s far left corner is a doorway giving access to a balcony overlooking the main entrance lobby, this space is lit by a large skylight. Leaving the conference room and returning to the hallway, Prince’s personal office is located immediately next door, containing a desk, corner sofa and an upright piano. The next room along is his closet with shelving. Following this is a long room used as the dresser, accessed via double doors into the corridor. An open doorway in its far right wall leads into the master bedroom. This large bedroom occupies the whole rear left corner of the upper floor, its ceiling is topped by a large pyramid recess. A washroom and restroom are inside. A second doorway returns to the upper floor corridor and here it turns right following the far side of the atrium, passing first the rear stairway. This section of corridor starts at the lounge containing a sofa, glass table and a recess in which is a daybed, beneath a paned window that looks onto the atrium. A room accessed from the rear of the lounge is a windowless bedroom with restroom. Back into the corridor, the next room along is the main bathroom, furnished with freestanding roll-top bath occupying the centre of the room. The final room on the corridor was the costume room a large space spanning the full right-hand side of the upper floor, this is where Prince’s hired seamstresses produced his wardrobe (it was later converted into his games room). On its left is the adjoining laundry room. A service corridor runs from the rear of the wardrobe. Along its outer wall are store rooms, the wardrobe continues along the interior wall. Passing a staircase leading to the studios below, the corridor turns right and meets the nearside open upper corridor of the atrium and the dove cage, ending at the elevator and main stairway landing.

The largest space at the complex is the fully sized soundstage, 120ft long by 102ft wide and 45ft high, it is one of the largest such studios in that part of the country, it encloses 12,500sq ft of space. Its roof can support lighting rigs up to 2,000lbs. The flooring is wooden to maximise acoustics, plus a small concrete section for siting drums. For live recording this is mic’d directly to the recording studios. The soundstage was the main space where Prince would construct his stage sets to conduct full scale tour rehearsals, as well as performed concerts here to up to 1,850 capacity attendance. Fans entered via the side reception area containing the coat drop. This area is formed out of the converted offices of the original production facility. As with the studios, the soundstage was likewise available to hire and a number of commercials have been shot here as well as films, including Drop Dead Fred (1991), even the Muppets. Tour rehearsals also took place here for other bands such as Beastie Boys, Bee Gees and Kool & The Gang. The former support office was converted into a green room. That room sits at the top of a corridor that links the soundstage to the rear lobby. This corridor showcases Prince’s trophies set into niches in the wall.

Before the studios were ready, the soundstage became the first facility in operation at Paisley Park. Here the stage from the Sign O’ The Times tour was rebuilt for the shooting of the Sign O’ The Times movie, which took place over six days from 18 to 23 July 1987. The first album recorded at Paisley Park was Lovesexy throughout December 1987 and January 1988. Following the closure of Paisley Park Records in 1994, Paisley Park Studios became also the home of Prince’s own label NPG Records.

The second filming in the soundstage was Graffiti Bridge in 1990, a larger full scale movie production. Stage rehearsals for the Lovesexy and the Nude Tour also took place here, and in fact all Prince’s subsequent tours were rehearsed here. Many of his subsequent music videos were also shot here, notably the Gett Off video maxi single in 1991 which also includes footage of Paisley Park’s exteriors; Sexy MF was filmed in the complex’s underground parking lot, March 1992; and The Undertaker, featuring the main entrance and studio interior filmed on 14 June 1993. The TV concert special The Beautiful Experience was filmed in the soundstage on 13 February 1994, as was Prince’s concert at the Millennium which he performed there on 18 December 1999 and was televised on New Year’s Eve. Furthermore, two key interviews were filmed at Paisley Park: Oprah Winfrey toured Prince and Mayte’s upstairs apartments and conducted a candid interview with Prince on 21 November 1996, his first interview after the death of his new-born son one month previous. And on 30 July 1998, he was interviewed by Spice Girl Mel B. Prince moved to LA for a spell in 2004 to 2009, where he rented string of homes and set up recording facilities. He still worked on albums at Paisley Park during this time, but played no live shows here during that period.

Prince performed smaller concerts in the adjoining second live show room – essentially an equipment prestage area for the soundstage. In the mid-2000s this space was transformed into a plush 1,000-capacity nightclub named the NPG Music Club, complete with stage and VIP area. Enclosing a double storey height open space, it is overlooked by a balcony from the second floor accessed via a metal staircase – where Prince often watched down from this balcony during his famous “After Dark” dance parties. Guest suites were also available upstairs, but lesser privileged visitors were accommodated at the nearby Holiday Inn. Prince’s final ever public appearance took place in the NPG Music Club in the early hours of 17 April 2016, at a party arranged to play down rumours over his state of heath – rumours which tragically proven true only four days later.

The facilities were also open to the public on special occasions, primarily for occasional concerts which Prince performed at increasingly regularity from the mid-1990s. These shows were in part warm-ups for larger scale events. Paisley Park was also opened to public tours over three consecutive Junes in 2000, 2001 and 2002 as part of his weeklong birthday Celebration events. In the months following his death, the Paisley Park complex transferred to the ownership of The Prince Estate and was again open for tours, this time as a permanent museum from 6 October 2016 under the management of Graceland Holdings. The operation returned to The Prince Estate on 1 October 2019, being unhappy the way the venue was run. In July 2020, a memorial Prince love symbol statue was placed outside the main entrance. Paisley Park remains a commercially run museum to this day.

Photography by The Prince Estate

The Vault

It was always an open secret in that Prince kept a vault, which he filled with the unreleased music he had stockpiled over the years; it became the stuff of legend. The vault, when at that time was phrased with inverted commas, was started by sound engineer Susan Rodgers who worked for Prince between 1983 and 1987. With Prince creating so much output, she had the forethought to curate the material as a body of work and preserve it for his legacy, and set about gathering the master tapes from Prince’s various studios and secured them away for safekeeping. It was not long before its shelves were filled and when Prince moved into Paisley Park a larger facility was installed. Prince never denied rumours of maintaining a vault filled with his unreleased music, yet it was not until after his death in April 2016 could it be confirmed one actually existed. A real walk-in vault, complete with a proper bank-style steel door, was found in the basement at Paisley Park – accessed by a stairway and the elevator that serviced the basement along with the central atrium and the living area above. Paisley Park’s basement floor comprised of two rooms connected by a short hallway; an instrument store sitting on one side and, and to the elevator’s left another room, found filled with cardboard boxes stacked full of tapes and many of Prince’s trophies and awards lining its walls. But in the left wall of this storage space provided undoubtedly its most interest aspect, a thick steel doorway to another room – the vault itself.

The snag was, Prince was the sole person who knew its keypad combination. And because he had died suddenly, police were required to search the premises from top to toe for evidence contributory to death, this included searching the locked vault. Although the police had searched the property on 11 May 2016 they were unable to access the mysterious locked vault. Returning on the 15th with a police engineer, the safe was cracked open that evening – at 19:10 to be exact. Representatives of Paisley Park’s court appointed custodians, the firm Bremer Bank, were also in tow being that this was the first moment anyone from the public had set foot in the vault, and worried that the police was rooting round what was the main commercial value of the entire estate – the horde of tapes lying within it. The vault contained shelf after shelf of master recordings, each only identified by handwritten and sometimes tantalisingly vague labelling.

The entire contents of the vault was cleared by the autumn of 2017 and transferred to a high-end storage facility in LA named Iron Mountain, for safekeeping as the humid conditions in Paisley Park’s basement threatened the integrity of the fragile tape recordings. The contents of this work underwent inventorying by Michael Howe, The Prince Estate’s appointed archivist, and since 2017 are undergoing ongoing restoration for commercial release – a process that involves baking the analogue tape to reactivate its magnetic binding, to prepare it for digitisation. The most distressed tapes required the soonest restoration, therefore are the first released; Prince’s 1983 studio demo released in 2019 as Piano & A Microphone 1983.

Paisley Park vault | Prince
The unbreached vault door; Carver County Sheriff’s Department

Concerts

The full list of concerts Prince staged at Paisley Park and in front of an audience is detailed below. All were performed in the soundstage unless otherwise noted:

Date Description
23 July 1987 Final day of 6 days shooting the Sign O’ The Times movie, first show in front of an audience
31 December 1987 Final show of the Sign O’ The Times Tour, held in benefit of Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless
7 May 1988 Glam Slam video shoot
15 September 1988 Show performed outside, on behalf of Warner Bros. executives
12 January 1992 Show with Terence Trent D’Arby and Carmen Electra
27 January 1992 Private show after Super Bowl XXVI (Donald Trump in audience)
17 December 1992 Show with George Clinton and Carmen Electra
18 June 1993 Full scale show with NPG
1 July 1993 Full scale show with NPG
9 July 1993 Full scale show with NPG
11 July 1993 Full scale show with NPG
12 July 1993 Full scale show with NPG
16 September 1993 Show with Lenny Kravitz
18 September 1993 Show with NPG and Mavis Staples
2 November 1993 Short performance with NPG
2 November 1993 Short performance with NPG
24 November 1993 Short performance with NPG
27 November 1993 Short performance with NPG
13 February 1994 Recording of The Beautiful Experience.
6 March 1994 Full scale show with NPG
26 May 1994 Full scale show with NPG
13 November 1994 Short show with NPG
14 January 1994 Short show with NPG
15 January 1994 Short show with NPG
22 January 1994 Short show with NPG
2 June 1995 Short show with NPG
3 June 1995 Full scale show with NPG
18 June 1995 Full scale show with NPG
5 August 1995 Full scale show with NPG
12 August 1995 Full scale show with NPG
18 August 1995 Short show with NPG and TC Jammers
19 August 1995 Full scale show with NPG
27 August 1995 Full scale show with NPG
30 August 1995 Full scale show with NPG
3 September 1995 Full scale show with NPG
9 September 1995
(2 shows)
Full scale show with NPG
17 September 1995 Short show with NPG
18 September 1995 Short show with NPG
20 September 1995 Full scale show with NPG
8 October 1995 Short show with NPG
22 October 1995 Short show with NPG
24 October 1995 Full scale show with NPG
29 October 1995 Short show with NPG for a VH1 Love 4 One Another TV special
12 November 1995 Short show with NPG
16 November 1995 Short show with NPG
9 December 1995 Full scale show with NPG
26 October 1996 Short show with NPG
27 October 1996 Short show with NPG
12 November 1996 Short show with NPG, filmed for MTV, BET and VH1 simulcast
13 November 1996 Short show with NPG following press conference
16 November 1996 Short show with NPG
28 December 1996 Short show with NPG
7 September 1997 Short show with NPG
10 September 1997 Full scale show with NPG
11 December 1997 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
12 December 1997 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham
12 December 1997 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham, in Studio C
7 February 1998 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham, in Studio C
14 February 1998 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham
15 February 1998 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham
21 February 1998 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham
28 February 1998 Short show with NPG
7 March 1998 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham
14 March 1998 Full scale show with NPG
21 March 1998 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
28 March 1998 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
4 April 1998 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
18 April 1998 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
2 May 1998 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
20 June 1998 Short show with NPG, during which The War is recorded
11 July 1998 Full scale show with NPG
18 July 1998 Full scale show with NPG
4 November 1998 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
14 November 1998 Full scale show with NPG
17 April 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
24 April 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
8 May 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
15 May 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
22 May 1999 Full scale show with NPG
19 June 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
26 June 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
3 July 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
10 July 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
4 September 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
26 September 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
18 October 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
23 October 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
6 November 1999 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
17 December 1999 Short show with The Time, then Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
18 December 1999 Full scale show with NPG, Larry Graham, The Time and Lenny Kravitz – televised as Rave Un2 The Year 2000
29 April 2000 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham
13 May 2000 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham
20 May 2000 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham
27 May 2000 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
3 June 2000 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
1 July 2000 Short show with NPG
8 June 2000 Full scale show with NPG
15 July 2000 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
22 July 2000 Short show with NPG
29 July 2000 Full scale show with NPG
9 September 2000 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
30 September 2000 Full scale show with NPG
21 October 2000 Short show with NPG
4 November 2000 Full scale show with NPG
18 March 2001 Short show with NPG and Larry Graham
11 June 2001 Short show with NPG
12 June 2000 Full scale show with NPG, then a later show with The Time for Prince: A Celebration
5 January 2002 Short show with NPG
12 January 2002 Short show with NPG
15 January 2002 Full scale show with NPG
2 February 2002 Full scale show with NPG and Larry Graham
21 June 2002 Full scale show with NPG for Prince: A Celebration
23 June 2002
(2 shows)
Full scale show with NPG and Sheila E for Prince: A Celebration
24 June 2002 Full scale show with NPG for Prince: A Celebration
25 June 2002 Full scale show with NPG for Prince: A Celebration
26 June 2002 Full scale show with NPG, Musiq Soulchild and Larry Graham for Prince: A Celebration
28 June 2002 Full scale show with NPG, Musiq Soulchild and Larry Graham for Prince: A Celebration
17 June 2004 Full scale show for Musicology 2004ever Tour
18 June 2004 Full scale show for Musicology 2004ever Tour
19 June 2004 Full scale show with Larry Graham for Musicology 2004ever Tour
24 October 2009 Full scale show with Larry Graham for Love 4 One Another charity
2 February 2013 Short show with 3RDEYEGIRL, in NPG Music Club room
6 July 2013 Full scale show with 3RDEYEGIRL in NPG Music Club room, streamed live
5 October 2013 Full scale show with 3RDEYEGIRL in NPG Music Club room, streamed live
6 October 2013 Small private show with 3RDEYEGIRL in Studio C
19 October 2013 Full scale show with 3RDEYEGIRL in NPG Music Club room
30 March 2014 Full scale show with 3RDEYEGIRL in NPG Music Club room, as Paisley Park After Dark
6 April 2014 Short show with 3RDEYEGIRL in NPG Music Club room, as Paisley Park After Dark
26 July 2014 Short show with 3RDEYEGIRL in NPG Music Club room, as Plectrumelectrum Listening Party
31 August 2014 Short show solo in NPG Music Club room
30 September 2014 Short show with 3RDEYEGIRL in NPG Music Club room, for Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age release party
18 October 2014 Full scale show with 3RDEYEGIRL in NPG Music Club room
16 November 2014 Short show with 3RDEYEGIRL in NPG Music Club room
5 April 2015 Short show with 3RDEYEGIRL and Judith Hill in NPG Music Club room, as Paisley Dance Party
19 April 2015 Short show with 3RDEYEGIRL and Judith Hill in NPG Music Club room
3 May 2015 Full scale show with 3RDEYEGIRL in NPG Music Club room, for Dance Rally 4 Peace
9 October 2015 Full scale show with Mono Neon and Donna Grantis, party for Madonna in NPG Music Club room
15 October 2015 Full scale show with Mono Neon and Donna Grantis, in NPG Music Club room
16 October 2015 Full scale show with Mono Neon and Donna Grantis, party for Judith Hill in NPG Music Club room
16 October 2015 Full scale show with Judith Hill, in NPG Music Club room
24 October 2015 Full scale show with Judith Hill in lead, in NPG Music Club room
6 November 2015 Full scale show with Mono Neon and Donna Grantis, NPG Music Club room as Paisley Park After Dark
7 November 2015 Full scale show with Mono Neon and Donna Grantis, in NPG Music Club room as Paisley Park After Dark
21 January 2016
(2 shows)
Full scale solo launch shows for Piano & A Microphone tour, gala event, in NPG Music Club room
23 January 2016 Full scale DJ set my Prince, in NPG Music Club room
17 April 2016 Two song solo as Dance Party held in the NPG Music Club room, to scotch rumours of his ill health, Prince’s last ever public appearance
NPG Music Club room

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