My son, who is 16, was humming a tune to himself the other day as he got ready for school. It took me a minute before I realized what it was: “Happiness is a Warm Gun” by the Beatles.
Now I love the Beatles, but we don’t play a lot of it around the house (my wife is allergic), so I don’t know where he heard it. But it was stuck in his head, and he was about to head over to iTunes to buy it for $1.29 – or worse, spend $2 for a 20-second ringtone snippet -- when I stopped him.
Instead, I went to Murfie.com and bought the entire White Album for $3. Then I played the song on our Sonos box in the family room. It totally ticked off my wife, but that was just a bonus. And then I got to bore him with Beatles trivia until he ran out the door headed for school. (At least he wasn’t late that day.)
The funny thing is, that $3 actually bought me a CD, but one that I never have to touch. Because that’s what Murfie does: It takes your CDs and turns them into MP3s you can listen to on your Sonos system, PC, and now iPhones and iPads with Murfie’s newly launched app. It also lets you buy and swap new and used CDs with other Murfie users. That’s how I found the copy of the White Album for $3.
A few months back I took a big chunk of my CD collection, tossed it into a box, and shipped it off to Murfie’s warehouse in Madison, Wisconsin. Now whenever I want to listen to “Exile on Main Street” or “Dusty in Memphis,” I just dial it up on one of my devices, and Murfie streams it to me. Or I can download the MP3s and carry them around with me on the device of my choosing.
I don’t have to hassle with storing my discs, but if for some reason I change my mind and want to hang onto all that plastic, Murfie will happily send my CDs back to me for a small fee.
My first thought after discovering Murfie was that when the recording companies and the RIAA hear about this, they’re going to have their legal eagles descend upon Murfie from a great height, and that will be that. No more CD streaming, downloading, or swapping. But when I asked Murfie co-founder Matt Younkle about this, he had an answer prepared.
These are my CDs, he assured me. I owned them. Each one was literally ripped by hand by Murfie’s team of minions and stored on the company’s hard drives. So if 100 Murfie members owned a CD of The White Album, that’s how many digital copies they stored on their servers. And if I sold mine, my digital copies would be transferred to someone else. (Which is why if you download an album’s songs you can no longer sell them on Murfie – because that would be cheating.)
Younkle says Murfie is negotiating with the record companies right now for rights to access the master files for each artist, which would allow them to skip the ripping and stream a single copy of each album to multiple users. As Murfie grows – it’s now storing some 350,000 CDs, worth $5 million when new – that’s going to be essential.
I remarked to Younkle that Murfie reminded me a lot of the early days of Lala.com, before it was purchased by Apple and turned into Ping. Lala was essentially a social network built around discovering new music. He says that’s a direction they’ve been exploring too. Younkle said he’s noticed how people like to interact on Murfie, so they opened up the service to allow members to explore the musical collections of others with similar tastes. He says they plan to build more social tools into the service over time.
Murfie isn’t free, of course. My Gold membership costs $29 a year; there are $1 transaction fees when non-Goldies buy albums, and other assorted fees. Not surprisingly, the music selection is somewhat random and changes day to day. It’s much more like a very large used record store than iTunes or Amazon Music, one where you can happily kill a lazy afternoon just flipping through discs.
I don’t often find services or products I like all that much. What can I say? I’m a curmudgeon. But Murfie is definitely one of my faves. When I need a music fix (cause I’m goin’ down), it’s where I head first.
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