Studio director keeps artists happy, hits coming

Before the Studio at the Palms opened in 2005, big-name recording artists rarely came to Las Vegas to work. There were already a handful of established music industry towns; Sin City offered merely an escape, a place to party.

Then George Maloof, who owned the Palms, tapped music industry veteran Zoe Thrall, who once managed big New York studios The Power Station and The Hit Factory, to oversee the Studio and ensure that it would be a successful business rather than a pet project.

Six years later, the Studio's client list reads like a Billboard Top 100 chart, with everyone from Britney Spears and Beyoncé to Maroon 5 and Michael Jackson churning out hit records at the Palms.

Thrall's job is to position the Studio to compete with Los Angeles and Nashville, Tenn. Recording technology has evolved rapidly over the years; every 18 months Thrall updates the Studio's computer systems and software.

She pitches the Palms as a complete package -- affordable hotel rooms, high-end dining, great nightlife and plenty of privacy. Thrall said Las Vegas' 24-hour nature appeals to artists, who regularly drop in on the spur of the moment to record for a few hours, or a few weeks, depending on their mood.

The Studio's eight employees are accustomed to the strange hours and peculiar requests. Circus tents and green M&M's -- it's just part of the job.

Question: What are your primary responsibilities at the Studio?

Answer: I do all the direct communication with clients or potential clients, scheduling recording sessions, negotiating deals with the client for the recording session. If they need anything else that we do provide here at the Palms, whether it be hotel rooms and reservations at restaurants, that kind of thing, I'll help them out with that. Budgets. Making sure the business is a viable one. Finding unusual things like green M&M's and didgeridoos.

Question: How do you turn a music studio into a successful business?

Answer: At this level, a lot of it initially, especially if it's a new facility just opening up, is networking or relationships. I had already had a long history, over 20 years, in the industry when Mr. Maloof contacted me to come here. I could get some of those clients to come to Vegas.

Question: What impact would you say the Studio has had on the Las Vegas music industry?

Answer: Nothing like this had been done in Las Vegas before. That high-end music industry had no reason (to come here), other than to come to party, not to work. This was an example of "build it and they will come." We have been able to pull from the major music markets. Artists that normally would have gone to Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta or Nashville now come to us. That is a business that simply didn't exist before.

Question: Do you have any memorable songs or albums you've been involved in?

Answer: The most recent, Maroon 5's No. 1 record "Makes Me Wonder" was done in the room we're sitting in. Michael Jackson's last single, "Hold Your Hand," was done here.

Question: Were there any records that were more sentimental for you?

Answer: Michael, of course ... I was a fan as a little girl of Michael's. I had also worked with him in New York, but this is a more intimate setting, and it was a pretty special time when he was here.

Question: What do you think artists enjoy most about working here?

Answer: The true, 24/7 nature of Las Vegas. Being at the Palms provides them services they can't get at other studios. When Jamie Foxx worked here, he wrote a song, recorded it and brought it up to (the Palms nightclub) Moon to test-market it.

It's a one-stop shop. We get their hotel rooms, their restaurants. We can have food delivered up here. Whatever needs they have, it's very easy for us to accommodate them. That really is what sets us apart from other studios.

Question: Is it difficult to keep it under wraps when an artist is recording at the Palms?

Answer: Initially, it was a learning curve for the Palms. It's Vegas, it's the Palms. It's all about celebrity.

In my world, privacy is everything. The recording studio is the one place where an artist can really let their hair down, relax enough to let that creative energy come out. The only way that can happen is if they're comfortable enough in their environment. The only way they're going to be that way is if you give them their privacy. It was very important that everyone understood that when the artists are here that no one be aware that they're here.

Once they finish, we're happy to talk about it and brag.

Question: Do you find that you have to market the Studio, still?

Answer: We do. You can't take your existing business for granted. One area we've reached out more aggressively than in the past is to the local, unsigned artist. It was very important to us, even initially, that we reach out to and support the artist community that's here. Our fees are cost-prohibitive to that type of artist. We needed to come up with a way to be able to help them and still be able to cover our costs and to hopefully try to get a band to break out of Las Vegas again.

We have a cut-rate for unsigned artists that are local. It's worked out really well. We had thought about ending it at the end of December, but I think it's going to extend through next year.

Question: What is the hourly rate for an artist?

Answer: $150.

Question: How much is the reduced rate for unsigned artists?

Answer: $100.

Question: Is that rate comparable to other studios in the industry?

Answer: We're at the higher end.

Question: How have things changed at the Studio over the last six years?

Answer: We've become more in tune with the corporate side of our clientele. The first two or three years, we did everything we could do to bring the recording industry here. That's our core business, and it was important that we get ourselves established.

It became time to recognize that we're in the Palms, there (are) a number of corporate clients that come here. Let's use the recording studio as an unusual and fun place for a corporate client to do a product demonstration or court their clients.

Question: Do artists ever have really bizarre requests for items they want in the studio?

Answer: I've had really bizarre requests for tapestries they want on the walls, circus tents they want in the studio, certain lighting, certain candles. It almost seems normal to me now. They work 14- or 16-hour days. You want it to feel like your own space.

Contact reporter Caitlin McGarry at or 702-387-5273.