There are many historic music sites that you can tour in the Twin Cities area, including Paisley Park in Chanhassen and First Avenue in Minneapolis. But Flyte Tyme Studios — where 10 No. 1 pop songs and numerous R&B hits were recorded — never opened its doors to the public.
A nondescript cream-colored brick building with no sign, located in an office park just off France Avenue in Edina, it was available only to superproducers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and the artists in their orbit.
It’s where Michael and Janet Jackson recorded “Scream.” It’s where Boyz II Men got down “On Bended Knee.” It’s where Sounds of Blackness urged the world to be “Optimistic.” Mariah Carey recorded there. So did Usher, TLC, Patti LaBelle, Mary J. Blige, Karyn White, Mint Condition, Vanessa Williams, Yolanda Adams and many more.
Now the building is going to be razed and replaced by a $22 million, 80-unit affordable-housing complex.
“We shouldn’t be having this discussion. It’s a national monument — or certainly a statewide one — as much as Paisley,” said Sounds of Blackness director Gary Hines, a staff producer at Flyte Tyme from 1989 to ’97.
Jimmy Jam, for one, is resigned about the demolition.
“I feel bad about it,” he said last week, “but progress is progress.”
The business has changed
Expensive recording studios are becoming obsolete. In a world of diminished revenue from music-streaming services and downsized record labels, recording budgets for albums have been dramatically reduced. Inexpensive home studios have proliferated, with the help of DIY software such as Pro Tools.
This is the third time the Flyte Tyme building has been sold since Jam and Lewis left for Los Angeles in 2003, leaving behind the world-class recording studio that they opened in 1989 with a splashy party. For several years the place was a specialty school for aspiring recording engineers and producers. Currently it’s Runway Studios, and it’s probably been used more as a rehearsal space than a recording studio. The building will shut down this fall to make way for the project by Aeon, a developer that specializes in affording housing.
Twin Cities musician Paul Peterson worked there from 2008 to ’16, as a teacher and program chairman for the Minneapolis Media Institute.
“It’s an absolute tragedy to lose that building,” said Peterson, known for his tenure in the Family, fDeluxe and the Petersons. “The problem is to keep a place like that open, the operational budget is extremely high. Unless it’s turned into a museum, I’m sure the owners could not say ‘no’ to the offer they got.”
People in the music world understood Flyte Tyme’s place in the history of popular music.
“Everybody I asked to come speak to my students probably jumped at the chance because of the history of the music made there,” Peterson said.
Said Grammy-winning Hines, who has performed around the world with Sounds of Blackness: “Jam and Lewis had profound international influence in so many genres, both on the business side with sales and awards, but, more significantly, artistically, culturally, socially and even politically.”
Dick McCalley, who co-owns the building and Runway, has reached out to the Minnesota Historical Society and the Edina Historical Society, which has an interest in memorabilia from Flyte Tyme.
However, music-biz students there often had no clue. “We had a picture of Jam and Lewis in the lobby of the school and the students were like, ‘Who’s that?’ ” Peterson said. “When you get one or two generations apart, it’s, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ We made sure the students knew how historic that building was.”
They wanted to build ‘a Lear jet’
Under the watchful eye of 10 pointillist portraits of Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix and other music giants by St. Paul artist Ta-coumba Aiken, musicians can still record in Studio A.
The signs outside each studio door, like the portraits on the ceiling, are left over from the Flyte Tyme days. Studio A is for “audacious,” B for “bodacious,” C for “contagious” and D for “dangerous.” The plug-ins on the walls still feature Flyte Tyme’s logo: a fedora and dancing two-tone Stacy Adams shoes.
Some of the recording equipment Jam and Lewis installed, such as Westlake speakers, is still there.
“I don’t like to use the term ‘state of the art,’ but Flyte Tyme was top-notch,” said Dave Ahl, who spent a year building the studio to Jam and Lewis’ specifications in what had been an office-supply warehouse.
Ahl, best known as the drummer for Twin Cities punk forefathers the Suicide Commandos, has built recording studios all over the country and helped Prince renovate Paisley.
“Flyte Tyme is just as good as Paisley Park; it’s just not as elaborate,” Ahl said. “Prince spared no expense.”
When it opened in 1989, Jam said Flyte Tyme was like a Lear jet compared with Prince’s 747: “They’ll both get you there. We’re just trying to be more economical.”
Jam and Lewis spent $3 million on the 17,000-square-foot facility, while Paisley, opened two years earlier, cost $10 million and had nearly four times as much space.
The Edina studio was actually the second site of Flyte Tyme. In a small brick building at 4330 Nicollet Av. S. in Minneapolis, Jam and Lewis recorded Jackson’s “Control” and “Rhythm Nation” albums as well as Human League’s No. 1 hit “Human,” beginning in 1985.
McCalley said the new building in Edina might be named Flyte Tyme Flats to commemorate the studio. The stretch of 76th Street that’s also home to an LA Fitness club might also be renamed for Flyte Tyme if city officials give their OK.
Jam said he thinks both ideas are fitting, and hopes the Aiken paintings will be displayed somewhere for the public to see.
When he looks back at those days, the 59-year-old Minneapolis native doesn’t think about the time Michael Jackson’s bus was parked in the Flyte Tyme parking lot for days, or the countless vocal sessions with Janet Jackson, or the visits by Prince during the making of the Time’s 1990 comeback album. His favorite memory is the opening party in September 1989.
“It was basically friends and people from the industry that came to Minneapolis, some of them for the first time,” Jam said. “It made Minneapolis a place to come to and be recognized. The naysayers said you had to go to L.A. or New York to make records. That’s not true. You can stay home and make great music.”