A Look Inside Prince’s Paisley Park
Just a year ago, the thought of standing inside the same room where legendary Prince albums like Lovesexy, Batman, Diamonds & Pearls, The Gold Experience, The Black Album, Sign O’ The Times, and Emancipation were recorded, was just this side of impossible.
But, I was able to do just that this week, during a tour of Prince's Paisley Park Studio, a 55,000 square foot facility, in Chanhassen, Minnesota, just southwest of the Twin Cities.
Sadly, the tour was possible, of course, because of Prince's death, April 21, 2016, at the age of 57.
Following months of legal wrangling over the distribution and control of Prince's estate, and battles with local officials over zoning concerns, the studio re-opened as a museum in October of 2016.
Paisley Park originally opened in 1987 and served as Prince's creative center up until his death. In the last three years of his life, the building had become even more than just a place of business for Prince, serving as his full-time residence and, ultimately, the place where he passed away.
But long before he died, Prince had actually envisioned Paisley Park someday becoming a museum, and because of that, the transformation of the building was fairly quick and painless.
When you arrive at Paisley Park, you are immediately stuck by how plain the exterior of the building is - no outlandish colors, no identifying signs.
The parking lot and front lobby are fairly small. So small, that you are not allowed to arrive until 20 minutes before your scheduled tour time, because neither can handle large crowds.
Once inside, the tour begins in the foyer, where a number of Prince's gold and platinum records are on display. From there you are led into an atrium, with a small kitchen and dining area that Prince frequented, on one side, and a trio of rooms depicting different eras of Prince's music on the other. These rooms display outfits, instruments, and even some hand written lyrics. Up above is a large birdcage, housing a pair of white doves.
Just off the atrium is Prince's office, which the museum's curators left pretty much in tact from the day he died. I was surprised how comfortable and inviting it felt. No ornate gold fixtures or extravagant furniture. Just a very simple desk, conference table, and sitting area.
Back in the foyer, our tour guide, Shawn, directed us to a miniature model of Paisley Park, with Price's iconic 'love symbol' attached to the top of it, suspended from the wall above the small kitchen. Like the building itself, this display is so much more than it appears. It houses the urn which contain Prince's ashes.
Even in death, he has never left the building.
After pausing for a moment to process that unexpected bombshell, we're led into perhaps the most famous room in the building - Studio A.
This is the place where all of those albums I mentioned earlier were recorded, and where the likes of Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion, and R.E.M. had all worked at one time.
Shawn shared some insight about how Prince liked to run a recording session. He would work with the other musicians to make sure all of the instrumental tracks were laid down and then he would kick everyone else out of the studio. At that point, Prince himself, not a sound engineer, would record his vocals, not out on the studio floor, but in the control room, sitting at the recording console.
As I looked through the glass into the control room, I noticed they had a microphone set up in the exact spot where Prince would sit and sing. I later found this 1998 video that shows him doing just that (watch the first 1:10):
If all of that wasn't enough, Shawn then played for us a small snippet of Prince's last recording session in Studio A, part of a jazz album he was working on last spring, just before he died. This is music that, as of now, hasn't been released anywhere and can only be heard by taking the Paisley Park tour.
If the day had ended right then and there, I would have gotten my money's worth.
But there was more...
Several of the rooms at Paisley Park remain largely untouched from the studio's operational days. Two of the biggest exceptions are a former studio/rehearsal space which has now been turned into the Purple Rain room, complete with one of Prince's motorcycles from the 1984 movie, along with a keyboard and guitar used in the film, plus the Oscar won by Prince for Best Original Score. An adjoining room, which once housed a production office, has been transformed into a space devoted to a pair of Prince's other movies, Under The Cherry Moon (1986) and Graffiti Bridge (1990).
The next stop was the 12,000 square foot sound stage where a portion of 1987's Sign o' the Times and the majority of 1990's Graffiti Bridge were filmed. The room is now filled with a few different concert stages set up to reflect some of the different tours in Prince's career.
Next door is the NPG Music Club, where Prince would host late night, weekend gatherings, movie screenings, dances, and impromptu concerts until the wee hours of the morning. This is the place where Sunday brunches are now served as part of the VIP tours (more on that in a minute).
Our tour ended in the lobby outside the NPG Music Club, where a portion of the Paisley Park chain link fence, decorated with tributes from fans following Prince's death, has been preserved.
On the opposite wall is a television playing a continuous loop of perhaps Prince's most memorable live performance, the halftime show at Super Bowl XLI, in Miami, February 4, 2007.
What an incredible way to end a extraordinary experience!
I'd show you some pictures from the tour, but cameras aren't allowed inside building. The security staff ensures you aren't tempted to snap a few photos with your cell phone, by locking your phone in a bag that you carry with you on the tour, only to be unlocked when you're safely outside the building.
The regular 70-minute tour is $38.50 (plus taxes and fees).
A VIP 100-minute tour is $100 and includes the regular tour, plus a look inside Prince's video editing suites and rehearsal rooms. On Sundays the VIP tour comes with brunch, prepared by one of Prince's personal chefs, in the NPG Music Club.
The 'Paisley Park After Dark Tours' are $60 and run Friday and Saturday nights. Fridays include a tour and dance party with a live DJ in the NPG Music Club. Saturdays feature a tour and viewings of Prince movies and performance videos in the NPG Music Club.