It takes about one minute to walk from the Palms' casino floor to its recording studio. Yet, tourists and locals never know that just a few walls separate them from the secretive Studio at the Palms, where Alicia Keys, Dave Matthews and a steady stream of stars write new music, day and night.
The Studio is such a hidden place that, over the course of a few years, even Michael Jackson recorded two sessions at the hectic Palms, for weeks at a stretch, clandestinely.
Jackson would stroll in wearing black jeans, a silk shirt and black leather jacket (no masks, no weirdo camouflage). His kids were in tow. He met with Vegas R&B singer-songwriter Ne-Yo to record music still unreleased.
Jackson wrote on keyboards and sang. When he'd finish for the day, his music-in-progress would get dumped onto a portable hard drive and locked in a safe, erased from Studio computers for his protection.
During a third visit, Jackson met with artists crafting a 2008 Super Bowl TV ad for SoBe fruit juices. It was in this studio that Jackson danced "Thriller" steps to show illustrators how SoBe's computer-animated lizards' needed to mimic his moves.
You've not heard these Michael Jackson details before, because the $6 million, state-of-the-art Studio guards musicians' working seclusions with rare Vegas gravity, so they may work in peace.
When the Grammys air Sunday, four awards could go to hit songs or albums recorded at the Studio: Eminem's "Relapse" (up for best rap album) and "Beautiful" (best rap solo); Jamie Foxx's "Intuition (best R&B album); and Alice in Chains' "Check My Brain" (best hard rock performance).
It was also here that Axl Rose arrived (with ever-present bandana) to lay down vocals on a handful of songs for Guns N' Roses' notorious "Chinese Democracy."
Usher recorded in 2008 and 2009 for his March album, "Raymond vs. Raymond." Usher then posed next to the Studio's piano for a milk ad, white mustache painted across his lip.
Many musicians now record on home studios, or they stick with their hometown studios in New York, L.A. and Nashville. But since opening in 2005, the Studio has snared Timbaland, LL Cool J, Gym Class Heroes, Journey, Death Cab for Cutie, Regina Spektor, Gavin Rossdale, Mary J. Blige, Will.I.Am, Elton John, Britney Spears, Tony Bennett, Diddy, Chevelle, Ciara, Ludacris, the Killers, and on and on.
As a bonus, musicians get to sleep in their choice of elaborate Fantasy Tower suites, bedazzled with personal pools, a bowling lane and a basketball court. They travel covert halls and elevators, never encountering screaming fans or friendly interruptions.
"These guys are here to work," Palms owner George Maloof says. "They like it, because their friends are not here and they can focus."
Stars interact with fans when they want. Jermaine Dupri blogged about his recording sessions.
"And they can write a dance song, and go test the song out at Moon (nightclub upstairs), and see how the audience likes it," says Studio Director Zoe Thrall.
In 2008, Jamie Foxx wrote a tune, then popped up to Moon to gauge its danceability.
Unlike other studio cities, delicacies are always at hand on the 24-hour Strip.
"We can get them a steak from N9NE Steakhouse" day or night, says Thrall (who previously earned a stellar reputation for managing New York's legendary studios The Hit Factory, Avatar and The Power Station).
Many stars are surprisingly easy to serve. Panic at the Disco subsisted on grilled-cheese sandwiches -- all the time.
When the Killers recorded the album, "Sam's Town," drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. was the Tabasco king.
"You could never get enough hot sauce for him," Thrall says.
Finally, she ordered him a gallon.
Marijuana icon Snoop Dogg recorded here, so I ask Thrall why the Studio doesn't still reek of pot.
"Because Snoop's not here right now," Thrall jokes.
Maloof tells Palms insiders about recording sessions on a need-to-know basis.
"I've had people in the Studio, and nobody believes it," Maloof says. "I'll say Eminem's downstairs right now,' or 'Dr. Dre's downstairs.' And they're like, 'What?!'"
"Believe me, we love hearing about (stars) staying at the Palms, in the media. But the studio's just more of a private place," Maloof says.
"I didn't want it to become like: 'So-and-so's in the studio, and they had a turkey burger.' "
Some musicians are so unbothered by the cost (a relatively inexpensive $1,850 a day), they're under the mistaken impression it's free.
A month ago, Maroon 5 keyboardist Jesse Carmichael told me he thought his band's studio time was a freebie, in exchange for singer Adam Levine's gambling forays.
"I can show you the invoices. They pay," Thrall says and laughs.
Maroon 5 recorded "Makes Me Wonder" and songs for a new album at the Studio, where bands use a second studio for mixing and cutting demos.
"We've gotta spread the truth about the serious quality of songs that come out of there," Carmichael says. "We can 'track' anything that we would ever need to record there."
When bands perform in the Pearl theater and Palms lounges, they can record those live shows with a touch of a button, sending live output directly to recorders in the Studio via hotel-wide fiber optics. My Morning Jacket and other bands have released in-concert Pearl/Studio albums exclusively on iTunes. Jay-Z is doing the same soon.
Six years ago, the Palms' Maloof brothers got the idea of building the 8,000-square-foot facility (designed by studio architect Francis Manzella) from Larry Rudolph, Britney Spears' manager at the time.
Stars were already flooding Vegas and the Palms. Why not rent them studio space?
Its success has been a pleasant surprise beyond expectations. But in a town of chest-thumping self-promotion, the Studio continues to offer stars privacy they crave while creating. Even Maloof has visited recording musicians only four or five times after they've asked to meet him.
"I don't want to be the owner-groupie that goes up there and is all over them when they're trying to do their work," Maloof says.
"I leave them alone."
To a working musician, those are four magic words.
Doug Elfman's column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 383-0391 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.