Madison-based company stored thousands of customers' CDs - then suddenly disappeared

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)-- A Madison-based music streaming startup is shutting down. Now, NBC15 Investigates is learning that customers across the country are scrambling to recover their CD collections.

(Source: Murfie Media / MGN / WMTV)

Murfie customers say they enjoyed the service the company provided while it was in business. It gave them the opportunity to support artists, and allow them to keep their CDs in a safe location and stream their music.

But after Murfie closed in November, one customer says she's still fighting to get 600 of her discs back.

FIGHTING BACK

Catherine Cuellar has been a member of Murfie since 2011.

"I received, shipped and joined their service and was able to have them rip my CDs to a cloud player where I’ve been able to listen to my music,” Cuellar says.

Customers like Cuellar were able to stream that music through the Murfie website or the app. Murfie also provided storage and sales services for the members' physical discs.

“For CDs I was not listening to, they sold them and split the profits,” Cuellar says.

Customers all over the country, taking to Twitter, are looking for answers.

Cuellar, who hails from Brooklyn, NY, says she's sent in a total of about 1,000 CDs over the last 8 years.

Then, in August 2019, Cuellar received an email that said her membership fees would be increasing to $199 per year.

"Then in November I got a very curt email saying that Murfie had ceased operations and that my media may be returned to me, and someone else would be in touch,” she says.

Soon after, she noticed that the company website was taken down, and it remains down today.

In an email dated Nov. 22, the Murfie team emailed users confirming it "has ceased operations. The senior debt holders of the company will determine the process by which you may retrieve any physical media that you may have stored at Murfie".

"The first thing I did when I got the email for ceased operations, was screenshot the covers of all the CDs I had in the streaming player. So if that vanished as swiftly as the website had, I would at least have a record of what my collection was to begin to rebuild it,” according to Cuellar.

Then, Cueller says a new company called Murfie Collection Return Service emailed her, claiming it could help customers retrieve their CDs for an estimated cost of $100 plus 45 cents per disc.

Cueller has paid $250 to get 600 CDs back.

"I had sent them another 200 of my CDs just last year, and those 200 were probably my most valued because they were the ones that had autographed liner notes, or custom artwork, or special packaging and box sets,” she says.

HOW WE INVESTIGATED MURFIE

In the meantime, for customers like Cuellar, it's about much more than getting her CDs back.

“Mainly it's the autographed things, the handprint things,” Cuellar says. “I had some CDs from artists like Andrew Bird from Chicago who had hand screened cover artwork.”

Through online court records, NBC15 Investigates confirmed Murfie had offices in downtown Madison.

We went to that address, and found no signs of Murfie being in operation.

Since Dec. 23, NBC15 Investigates has tried multiple times - by phone, email and Facebook Messenger to reach Murfie Management, including the founders.

We are still waiting for a response.

SUDDENLY DISAPPEARED

Duane Steinhauer is the warehouse manager of a building on Madison’s west side. He tells NBC15 Investigates that Murfie rented the space until two years ago, when the company stopped paying rent and was evicted.

"It's almost like some kid breaking into your house and stealing your stuff, and you don't get it back,” Steinhauer says.

“You feel very violated when that happened, and I would imagine there's a similar feeling of violation from the people who trusted them with their stuff,” Steinhauer says.

Steinhauer said they've tried calling Murfie.

"They said the person we were looking for was no longer with the company, and we said 'what do you want to do with all of this?' And they said 'do with what?' Because they had no record of anything that was stored in our building,” according to Steinhauer.

Now Steinhauer is trying to get rid of the thousands of discs.

“So if some people who think they might have some of their stuff, if they're really interested in coming and looking, we'll certainly talk to them.” Steinhauer says.

HELP US MAKE MEANINGFUL INVESTIGATIONS

NBC15 News' investigation into Murfie is ongoing. If you are a former customer, employee or involved with Murfie in any way, please share your experience with us. Tips can be sent to our newsroom email at news@nbc15.com


Murfie's old website, which is now offline. (Source: WMTV screen capture)
Murfie's Customer CD Return form Cuellar received when she tried to get her stored CDs back (Source: WMTV)
A letter from Murfie to Cuellar about a fee hike to $199 per year (Source: WMTV)
Cuellar's CD collection at Murfie, shown on her phone (Source: WMTV)