Smart Studios CD Wall
Madison's Smart Studios -- where most famously Nirvana and Garbage recorded -- was presumably one of the 14 businesses that put Madison fifth in the U.S. for music industry concentration, according to a 2009 study out of Canada. This is the CD wall at Smart Studios, which is closing March 1.

Smart Studios, the Near East Side studio that recorded part of a Nirvana album, launched the band Garbage and gave Madison some of its coast-like coolness, is closing March 1.

The studio, started in a basement in 1983 by UW-Madison students Butch Vig and Steve Marker, has been located since the late 1980s in a two-story, red-brick building at 1254 E. Washington Ave.

A decrease in big-label bands in recent years made it hard for the studio to make money, studio manager and chief engineer Mike Zirkel said Saturday.

“Even when the music industry was healthy, it wasn’t the easiest business in the world,” Zirkel said. “But it’s become increasingly difficult. At a certain point, you realize you can’t pull it off anymore.”

Zirkel and engineer Beau Sorenson are the two full-time employees. The studio has two part-time employees and a “stable” of freelancers, Zirkel said.

Vig and Marker, members of Garbage who live in Los Angeles and Colorado, respectively, remain co-owners of the studio, Zirkel said.

Studio recordings in the 1980s of punk and skateboard bands such as Tar Babies and Killdozer caught the attention of producers on the coasts, according to a history on the studio’s Web site.

Nirvana recorded demo sessions at the studio for its hit 1991 album, “Nevermind,” featuring the lead single, grunge anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Vig and the band produced most of the final album in Los Angeles, Zirkel said, but the album’s song “Polly” was recorded in Madison.

In the mid-1990s, the studio started creating remixes for artists such as U2, Beck, House of Pain, Alanis Morissette and Nine Inch Nails. Death Cab for Cutie’s 2005 album, “Plans,” was mixed at the studio, Zirkel said.

Garbage’s four albums also have been recorded at the studio.

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