What’s in your entertainment center? Stacks of scuffed polystyrene jewel cases? Haphazard piles of lightly scratched CDs?
What about your closet? A trove of yesteryear media? A bookshelf’s worth of jumbo nylon-mesh storage cases harboring hundreds of discs and wrinkled liner notes?
The last time you visited a used record shop Star Trek: The Next Generation was probably still airing new episodes. Now everything you listen to lives on iTunes and Amazon or Spotify, Pandora and Rdio. When Elvis belts “Lord almighty, I feel my temperature rising,” he’s piped off a capacious mini-slab of solid state memory instead of through a laser gliding over a whirling polycarbonate circle. Nowadays you just summon a groove by speaking into your phone like Jean-Luc Picard asking the Enterprise for a little Ravel or Debussy. You are the next generation.
So what do you do with all that old media clutter? Donate it? Backfill the coffee cup coaster collection? Escort it to the local dumpster? What if you could make it someone else’s problem, say someone who’d convert it over to lossless audio data accessible from any web browser — data that doubled as credit toward buying or trading new music online?
Enter Murfie, an eclectic “online social media marketplace” that’ll let you do exactly that, and a concept CEO Matt Younkle refers to as “the ultimate online corner record store.” Think of it as iTunes meets Championship Vinyl: a vehicle for music aficionados looking to bridge their physical and digital worlds while maintaining control over how that relationship works.
“We set out to build a place you could buy, sell and trade your music with other people,” says Younkle of Murfie’s inception in May 2011. “But it’s different in that we enable you to stream and download what you buy.”
Online music stores are a dime a dozen, so Murfie’s grounded itself firmly in the physical side of music media. “It’s how I got started with Murfie,” explains Younkle. “I had this big CD collection but I didn’t have a CD player any more and I was asking myself, ‘What does it mean to have all these CDs?’ And what I discovered was that it means you actually own this content in essentially the best format it was ever distributed. So I wanted to be able to preserve that, yet access my music in more contemporary ways.”
He’s apparently struck a chord: Murfie currently boasts over 6,000 members, and processes a whopping 8,000 discs per week, on average.
Here’s how it works. Start with your dormant CD collection, which you’ll box up and send to Murfie’s warehouse in Madison, Wisconsin; the company provides the shipping kit gratis after you sign up for an account online. Once your CDs arrive, Murfie’s team (mostly college music students, says Younkle — the warehouse sits half a mile from the University of Wisconsin) unboxes and IDs your content, attaches all the correct metadata and puts your music into a cloud locker where you can then access it by streaming or downloading it.
How much stuff can you throw in Murfie’s direction at once? All of it, says Younkle.
“Ninety percent of the music still shows up in jewel cases and the other 10% is usually in Case Logic-style cases,” he explains, noting that Murfie personalizes each kit based on how many discs you have and whether they’re in jewel cases or stored in sleeve-type cases. If you’d rather hang on to the cases, Younkle says Murfie can send paper-style sleeves to protect the discs in transit. “The kit has everything you need, sized for your collection, however you’ve ended up storing it, along with some tape and prepaid shipping labels,” he adds.
So what’s the catch? Where’s the subscription-fee gotcha? For starters, Murfie charges $1 to convert each disc, so if you send in 1,000 CDs, you’d pay $1,000 for the whole caboodle. That said, Younkle notes that a small number of customers simply use Murfie as an a la carte ripping service.
But that assumes you need someone else to cloud-archive your tunes, a process most audiophiles routinely handle themselves using free lossless decoders like Exact Audio Copy (Windows) or XLD (OS X). If you want in on Murfie’s more intriguing marketplace angle, the company offers a $29 per year service it calls Murfie Gold. Younkle naturally calls this “the better deal.”
Sign up for the gold membership and Murfie drops the conversion rate per disc from $1 to $0.29, offers free streaming of your entire library, lets you trade music with other gold members and waives the conversion fee for trades or purchases. That’s right: Murfie allows straight-up music purchases from a catalog currently boasting over 220,000 discs.
“You’re actually buying and selling and trading CDs on Murfie,” explains Younkle, who says to think of Murfie as a sort of financial deposit-holder for your physical music. “It’s sort of like putting money in a bank. You put your CDs in the Murfie bank and they become a currency, in effect. They can be sold and traded.”
At any point, if you decide Murfie isn’t for you, Younkle says the company can pull your stuff and ship it back at bulk shipping rates. “That’s sort of the fallback position,” he says. “Fortunately for us, not many people have asked for their stuff back.”
What encoding options does Murfie offer? How does the service handle music swaps? Isn’t there an elephant-in-the-room-sized legal issue? That and more in the next installment.