The Studio at the Palms

Music prevails at Palms, despite ownership change

You might be surprised to learn that, located on an undisclosed floor in the Palms Casino Resort’s Fantasy Tower, a state-of-the-art recording studio exist that some of the biggest names in the music industry seek out. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Studio at the Palms is the enduring legacy of former casino owner George Maloof Jr. and his appreciation for music.

It’s been the source of countless award-winning and chart-topping records, and in the imminently talented hands of studio director Zoe Thrall, it has made Las Vegas a major player in an increasingly lean and competitive recording industry. Maroon 5, Wiz Khalifa and Usher, to name but a few, have made the Palms their home away from home while crafting some of their finest work.

With the same combination of passion and pocketbook that created the Pearl Concert Theater, Maloof recognized a void and put his money where his mouth was to fill it. The man who took a turn sitting in every seat in the venue to make sure there were no “bad seats” set up an equally unique space for artists to create.

With just two recording rooms, it’s small compared to some of the studios in Los Angeles or New York, which is also part of what makes it so special. Bigger studios have more rooms with more artists working, which can lead to distractions.

“If someone pops into the studio at the wrong moment, then the focus is lost,” said Thrall. “I can’t tell you how many times people have commented on how much work they got done because they were allowed to disappear here.”

With a world-class resort and casino as perks, artists can get off the grid while working. One great example would be Michael Jackson in 2008. He stayed and worked for three months, and no one knew he was on property, not even the room service staff. Then there are the artists who embrace a Vegas-style bridge between work and play.

“Katy Perry was so much fun; we’d go up and visit the clubs with her. It was a blast,” said Thrall. “Jamie Foxx was here for a couple weeks, and he finished some work at 1 a.m. and wanted to test it out. So, he went up to Moon (nightclub) and had the DJ play the track to see what the reaction would be. Where else are you going to get to do that?”

Besides Maloof’s genius, the second-largest key to the studio’s success is Thrall herself. After growing up playing music and studying it in college, she was drawn to the technology. She moved to New York and became a recording engineer. She played “rock n roll oboe” in Steve Van Zandt’s the Disciples of Soul for more than a decade and then engineered at landmark New York studios The Power Station and The Hit Factory.

In 2005, she got the call from the Maloofs to come and manage a studio inside a Las Vegas casino. Although she initially envisioned Vegas casino owners in the mold of the great Moe Green character in The Godfather, she ultimately was won over by Maloof’s sincerity and vision.

“I could see how serious he was, and that convinced me,” she said. “He committed the dollars necessary to build this thing. It’s very expensive, and he recognized that, if we were going to attract a certain caliber of artist, he had to get it right.”

Thrall has been instrumental in developing the Studio at the Palms’ place in the industry, drawing on her lifetime in the business and her being in place since its opening. One gets the sense that she truly belongs where she is, even as a New Yorker with affection for Sin City.

What does she like most about Vegas?

“No snow,” she replied without missing a beat.

In addition to musical artists, she also has embraced other unique events in the space, from cocktail receptions, to product demos, to birthdays. And it isn’t just big-name American artists flying here to record. Akina Nakamori, the “Madonna of Japan,” has recorded three albums at the studio. Also, hometown heroes Elton John and Celine Dion are regular clients.

After the Maloofs sold their majority stake in the Palms in 2011, the Studio at the Palms soldiered on through a period of uncertainty by focusing on the service it provides and relationships with the artists who have come back time and time again. With the recent purchase by Station Casinos, Thrall is optimistic about the studio’s future and perceived value by the new owners.

“What’s really refreshing is they recognize how special the studio and the Pearl (concert theater) are,” she said. “In just a few short months, I’ve seen enormous attention to the music side. I’m sure that we’re going to see some really cool things with them as owners.”