When Kayla Liederbach graduated from UW-Madison in May 2011, she worried about what would become of her WSUM radio show, U-Dub. She'd been hosting it for two years, and she could hardly imagine life without it. Each Wednesday night, she morphed into a music ambassador as she basked in the tropical sounds of reggae and dub.
"It's my favorite thing ever," she says of broadcasting. "I get to do things like play music and meet Toots of Toots and the Maytals, who is one of the happiest, nicest people you'll ever meet."
Liederbach ended up keeping her WSUM show after earning her degree in life sciences communication. What's more, she's using her broadcasting skills at her job with Murfie, a Madison startup that sprouted the same month that she donned her mortarboard. In addition to working in Murfie's operations department, she hosts the company's music podcast, at blog.murfie.com.
An online music marketplace powered by cloud-computing tools, Murfie is the brainchild of serial entrepreneurs Matt Younkle and Preston Austin, both UW graduates. Unlike music-streaming services like Spotify, Murfie lets users listen to music from their own CDs, which they ship to the company.
Murfie's customers own their music, and that gives them a special set of legal rights, says Austin. "Buying tracks on iTunes and Amazon only gives you the license to listen to the music according to license terms," he says. "You lack many of the rights that owners of CDs and other physical media have." In other words, a CD's tracks can be played on multiple computers and other devices, but files purchased sans disc may not come with the same perks.
Austin likens Murfie to condominium ownership, which combines some of the best features of renting and buying. "When you rent, you are subject to the whims of landlords, who may be great, may suck and may change from one to the other," he says. "Murfie combines the better aspects of renting, by taking care of everything, with the privileges of ownership - like the right to give a rare album you own to your sweetheart and have that mean something special."
Before Murfie, Austin founded and sold Clotho Advanced Media, a company that builds content management systems, mobile apps and other tech tools. Younkle's most famous invention is TurboTap, a gadget that pours beer at lightning speed.
In Murfie's operations department, Liederbach helps process and catalogue the 8,000 CDs customers send to its Pinckney Street headquarters each week. She rips songs from the discs, transfers them to the cloud and recycles the jewel cases. Users can then download their files to a computer, sell them to others or swap them for tunes they've been craving. With about 5,000 users and 200,000 discs to choose from, the pickings are anything but slim.
As podcast host, Liederbach has chatted up local musicians like Whitney Mann, Icarus Himself and All Tiny Creatures, as well as national touring artists, who field queries about their childhood listening habits, pre-show rituals and favorite snacks. On the March 22 podcast, pop-rocker Eric Hutchinson revealed that he'd like to be reincarnated as an elephant.
The podcast started in January, following a $1.4 million infusion of investor funding. The money didn't eliminate one of the biggest challenges startups face: obscurity. Even though Murfie has been featured in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, it's still not a household name. Along with a blog and a recently launched YouTube concert series, Murfie's podcast is a vehicle for bolstering name recognition.
"When I started reaching out to artists, I didn't have any samples to show them," says Liederbach. "[Madison Americana artist] Josh Harty was excited about the fact that Murfie's a startup, so he agreed to be interviewed for the first podcast. Things got easier after that, once people could see what I was trying to do." By the end of February, artists were approaching Liederbach for coverage, not the other way around.
The podcast has helped Liederbach broaden her concept of radio hosting. "Before, I used to just play a lot of songs," she says. "Now I incorporate more interviews. People are interested in learning about the artists who make the music they love. I'm here to teach them."