Published Apr 25, 2011The sight of a cube van with a trailer parked outside of a venue gets me curious, excited, and even a little nostalgic. Who's playing? Where are they from? What's their sound? Unfortunately, that same sight gets some people curious for an entirely different reason. Musicians of all calibres, be they local bands or international touring acts, have been victims of instrument theft. It would be nice to think these are uncommon events, but the ugly truth is that your time to fall victim may be right around the corner. Your gear is your most important investment, and you'll want to protect it through instrument insurance. Here's what you need to know:
Type of Coverage
Getting insurance specifically designed for professional musicians is vital. Some musicians will get contents insurance (i.e., insurance for the contents of their home or apartment) and think this will cover them. There are two problems with this: first, your gear is only covered while it's IN your home, so if something happens while on tour, it's not covered. Second, contents insurance only covers personal belongings, and since you use your instruments to (hopefully) generate income, they're considered to be business tools, which aren't covered. The only time contents insurance will be enough is if you only play your instruments as a hobby, and only in your home. If you play live or otherwise generate income from your instruments, you need more than just general contents insurance.
When working out a policy, it's important to ask how the value of your instruments will be determined. There are several ways that companies do this, but the most common (and some say best) is to determine all values up front. You set your own replacement values for instruments and submit it to the insurance company, based on appraisals (for vintage) or replacement costs. The amount that you pay for the insurance is based on the valued amount that you submit, and your reimbursement is paid out on what you actually spend to replace it if it goes missing. Another option is determined by working with the insurance company and/or appraisers (in the case of irreplaceable vintage gear) when the gear is stolen, and then coming up with an "agreed value." With this option, there is some negotiation, so claims can take longer to be paid out.
When you're covered (and when you're not)
Like most other insurance products, there are times when you negate your coverage through action. If you're on tour and your gear is locked up in your van, and someone breaks a window, you're covered. If a theft occurs while your gear is left unattended, it may not be. Unless you have an "all-risk" policy, forced entry will need to be proven. Some companies will have you sign a "locked vehicle warranty" clause, stating that you agree to make all efforts to keep your gear safe in order for claims to be valid. Lastly, even some "all-risk" policies have exceptions (acts of war, etc), so it's good to know what those are.
What's covered (and what isn't)
Some policies provide "blanket" coverage, meaning you have up to a certain dollar amount that's covered. Other policies require an item-by-item manifest of everything that you have, including values and serial numbers. It's worth noting, too, that anything related to the band is usually insurable. This can include laptops, cameras, merch/CDs (covered at manufactured cost, not retail price), etc., as long as the insurance companies are aware of them and agree that they're business tools. Personal belongings aren't covered, so if you have anything of high value that you bring with you not related to the band, you'll need other coverage.
Making a claim
If the unthinkable happens, you'll need to make a claim. Since you'll be on the road, you won't be able to replace the gear right away, so you'll have to rent some in the meantime. Most policies will cover the costs of renting replacement instruments while on the road, up to a certain dollar amount. When a theft or damage occurs, there are two things you must do immediately. First, notify the company right away. This way, they've got the incident on file with date, time, and details. Second, if it's a theft, notify the police and get a report, as some companies will need the report number. With these two things taken care of, you'll be in a good spot to get reimbursed easily and quickly.
This varies from policy to policy, but in general, the cost of insuring your gear ranges from 1.5 percent to 3 percent of the value. So, $10,000 of coverage would be between $150 and $300 a year. The rate also depends on region, as coverage in Canada only will be cheaper than worldwide coverage. Additionally, some music organizations such as SOCAN or the CFM have relationships with brokers, and offer discounts for their members.
There are other options for coverage, too, depending on what stage of career you're at: commercial liability (in case someone is injured at your show), non-appearance insurance (in case you're sued for not showing up, for whatever reason), employers liability (if you're hiring musicians and/or road techs), and more. All of these are worth talking to the insurance companies about.
Finally, don't neglect the one asset that's more valuable than your gear: you. If you're travelling outside of your province, or outside of Canada, personal emergency medical insurance is a must. These are available through some music instrument insurance brokers, or through travel agencies. Protecting yourself and your gear will put your mind at ease while on tour, so you can focus on making new fans, new friends, and, most importantly, great music.
Next Three Steps:
Contact insurance companies that regularly deal with musicians and talk to them. Some examples are Shephard-Ashmore, Frontrow, and Hub International.
Contact any industry organizations you're a member of to see if they offer any discount.
Itemize your gear, with serial numbers and values.
Scott Honsberger is a consultant and founder of music industry advice blog Your Bands Best Friend.