Let's talk about insurance. Wait! Don't leave! I know that insurance is one of the least rock 'n' roll things to discuss, and it conjures up images of an annoying woman in bright-red lipstick named Flo, but if you're a musician—whether your art is a career or a hobby—insuring your gear should be just as important as always having spare cables on hand.
Just ask local folk rockers Ivan & Alyosha.
Earlier this month, the band's van and trailer—which held an estimated $40,000 worth of guitars, amplifiers, drums, pedals, and more—were stolen while the Seattle four-piece was on tour in Atlanta. The van was later found, thanks to the vehicle's GPS system, but everything else was long gone. Singer Tim Wilson confirmed via e-mail that most of the stolen items were not insured, and I&A were only able to continue their tour thanks to donations from Amazon, Rhapsody, Dualtone Music (their record label), and fans, by way of a PledgeMusic.com campaign.
In April, another local musician, Kris Orlowski, thought his gear would be safe in his locked van parked on Queen Anne. It was not. He says that somewhere around $6,000 worth of instruments, cables, and pedals were swiped. Orlowski didn't have insurance either, and to make matters worse, one of the items taken—a keyboard worth $3,000—wasn't even his. He was holding it for a friend. Ugh.
There's a sort of happy ending to this one, though. Orlowski passed around the list of missing gear via social media and music blogs, and thankfully a pawn shop employee recognized the items. Orlowski was able to buy back almost all his stolen gear for about $500. He's since gotten insurance ("It was a big learning experience for me," he says), and shortly after the robbery, he hosted a benefit show with Allen Stone, John Roderick, Shelby Earl, and others. The concert was originally intended to help him replace the stolen items, but instead he was able to donate all the proceeds ($3,600!) to MusiCares.
If you're a music maker, and you haven't stopped reading at this point to go research and purchase insurance for your stuff, you are insane. Or rich.
These aren't freak incidents—this happens all the time. In 2011, Portland band Portugal. the Man had their van, trailer, instruments, and merchandise taken after playing Lollapalooza in Chicago. That same year, the Lumineers had many of their instruments stolen in Los Angeles while they were on tour. In March, someone took Mark Pickerel's 1960s Washburn Prairie Song guitar out of his car while it was parked on Market Street in Ballard. In April, Seattle Rock Orchestra founder Scott Teske had a couple treasured upright basses—including one that's 150 years old!—taken from his home (they have since been returned, thankfully). BUT SERIOUSLY, NO GUITAR IS SAFE.
Still, instrument insurance is something that so many musicians don't have. After polling a dozen of my musical friends, I learned only two had insurance for their gear—one was in a band with a business manager who took care of it for them, and the other only had insurance after having been robbed in the past. The most common excuse for not having it: "I've been meaning to get it, but I keep forgetting," followed by "I don't think I can afford it." But musician's insurance is more affordable than you might think, especially when you weigh it against the cost of what would happen if all your shit was swiped.
Clyde Petersen, singer of Your Heart Breaks and director of great music videos, says MusicPro is a great place to start, but he, too, had to learn the importance of insurance in a very costly way.
A few years ago, Petersen had just moved into a new house near Ross Park. He went to the grocery store, and in that 15 minutes he was gone, someone broke in and took about $10,000 worth of cameras, laptops, and hard drives. His neighbors were also robbed.
"I didn't have insurance at the time, which is so ridiculous, since I had been tour-managing bands for years, hounding them to get insurance and making sure their gear was covered," he says. "Getting insurance was something I kept putting off until it was too late."
Friends rallied and organized a benefit show, so Petersen, who makes music videos for a living, was able to at least replace the stolen laptop. But he says it's still taken a long time to financially recover from the hit. His stolen DSLR camera was insured through MusicPro, via another band, and now he insures all of his equipment through the company.
"I felt very pleased with the service," Petersen says, "and I received a check very quickly. Once you get your inventory into the site, it's easy to adjust and make changes to it. Practically speaking, they do good work. In a world where insurance companies feel like a scam, this is a company that I am actually glad exists."
Orlowski also works with MusicPro now, and praised them for their affordability and the fact that you can adjust how and where you're using the instruments, to ensure that you're covered at home, on the road, at your practice space—wherever.
So what are you waiting for? Go get insurance! Check out MusicPro (musicproinsurance.com), Heritage (musicins.com), and Clarion (clarionins.com) to start. Ask your musically inclined colleagues who they work with (assuming they have it), and spend an afternoon making a detailed inventory of your gear, including serial numbers and photos. It might also be wise to check out online instrument registries like GearTrack (gear-track.com) and Screaming Stone (screamingstone.com), which will help you spread the word should any of your stuff go missing.
Of course, you could just not insure your shit, assume it won't happen to you, and then be left humbly asking friends and fans to give you $50 in exchange for a "phone call from the road," but whatever.
Now if only we could get musicians some affordable health insurance...