Bands Get Ripped Off All the Time, So Why Doesn't Anyone Have Insurance?


jenny jimenez

KRIS ORLOWSKI Insured his gear after learning the hard way.

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 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 (, Heritage (, and Clarion ( 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 ( and Screaming Stone (, 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... recommended


Comments (21) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
What were folk rockers doing with $40,000 dollars worth of gear?

1) Someone stays in the van with the gear.
2) Someone stays in the van with the gear.
3) Someone stays in the van with the gear.

Picking up what I'm putting down?
Posted by Beat Masterson on July 3, 2013 at 10:46 AM · Report this
Griffin 2
I have $10K of classical music gear insured through State Farm. It's $65/year and covers everything (theft from anywhere, fire, flood, accidental damage, you name it). Totally affordable and worthwhile, and your renters/homeowners company will do this for you, too. And probably give you a discount.
Posted by Griffin on July 3, 2013 at 12:31 PM · Report this
Hey guys, lets leave tens of thousands of dollars of gear in a van that's covered in crappy stickers.


Posted by Jeff on July 3, 2013 at 12:54 PM · Report this
I think a renters insurance policy for no more than $300/yr would cover up to $50K worth of gear, including your TV, computer,bikes yadda yadda.
Posted by Murph3000 on July 4, 2013 at 11:27 AM · Report this
Huh. I asked my State Farm insurance agent a few years ago about getting my gear insured. He told me that they don't insure music gear, and that no insurance company would insure it. Sounds like I need to find a new insurance company.
Posted by John Grievance on July 5, 2013 at 12:21 AM · Report this
Banna 6
Because when I think about responsibility, forethought and responsible financial management, the first thing that comes to mind is young, struggling, traveling musicians.

"I could spend this $50 on a year's worth of coverage for my gear, or I could put $50 worth of gas in the van to drive to that gig in Omaha that only pays $45."
Posted by Banna on July 5, 2013 at 10:44 AM · Report this
r.chops 7
A combo of Renters + Auto insurance can cover a lot already, if you pay attention to your policy.

You can often identify "valuable property" to be insured separately (or in addition to)for about $5 a month.

I'm starting to have less and less sympathy for bands that leave their stuff unattended in parked vans. Come on.
Posted by r.chops on July 5, 2013 at 10:46 AM · Report this
Renter's insurance won't help you if you're a gigging musician. Most renter's insurance policies specifically exclude coverage of gear that's taken out of the house to perform with. They consider it professional equipment and won't insure it without a special commercial rider.
Posted by SomeGuy3000 on July 5, 2013 at 11:04 AM · Report this
Can't they write a folksy song about the po' downtrodden folks reduced to stealing their gear to feed their families livin' in a shack down by the train tracks?
Posted by Woodied Guthrie on July 5, 2013 at 11:13 AM · Report this
This is confusing:

"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."

So the pawn shop knowingly sold Orlowski's stolen items back to him - that is, knowingly sold stolen goods? How did that work?
Posted by Ancient Sumerian on July 5, 2013 at 11:32 AM · Report this
Even if you can't/won't buy insurance having an accurate inventory of gear including serial numbers is still useful for recovering your gear and possibly aiding the prosecution of thieves if is recovered. Many police departments circulate lists of stolen items to pawn shops, used equipment buyers, etc.
Posted by restlessnative on July 5, 2013 at 12:02 PM · Report this
Dougsf 12
@4 - Definitely recommended for all renters, but if you're a "professional" musician, which to actuaries means playing shows for money, you'll need a separate policy for your gear should it be stolen from anywhere outside your home. Same is true for camera gear, or whatever expensive hobbies you might have involving things that aren't glued down.

Also, the Lumineer's missing gear wasn't theft, it was mercy.
Posted by Dougsf on July 5, 2013 at 12:13 PM · Report this
@10, the pawn shop probably said "hey, we paid $500 for this stuff, we can sell it to you at cost."
Posted by Hanoumatoi on July 5, 2013 at 1:17 PM · Report this
If it truly happens "all the time", i.e. you can expect your gear to be stolen on a regular basis, then insurance makes no sense. The price for an insurance policy will be its expected payout (probability of the event times its cost) plus bit more for the insurer's overhead and profit. So if the event is expected (probability goes to one), the price of the insurance will be slightly higher than the cost of regular replacement. Insurance makes sense for events that are unlikely to ever happen to you, but financially catastrophic if they do.
Posted by David Wright on July 5, 2013 at 1:21 PM · Report this
I had a $300 guitar stolen last year and I'm still pissed about it. I can't imagine having 10s of thousands of dollars worth taken.

But you have to be careful. A lot of insurance policies specifically exclude musical instruments. Know what kind of insurance you're buying or else you may think you're covered, then get a nasty surprise when you go to collect.
Posted by MRM on July 5, 2013 at 1:25 PM · Report this
Megan Seling 16
@10/@13 That's exactly what happened. Orlowski had to cover the cost that the pawn shop owner paid. The person selling the stuff said it was his and gave his information, so so long as it was legit info, the police will catch up with him.
Posted by Megan Seling on July 5, 2013 at 2:36 PM · Report this
All stolen gear stories are the same: bands leave a ton of valuable shit unattended in a vehicle. Always have someone with the gear, always unload everything, every night. While it could happen, I've yet to hear about someone getting their stuff stolen from inside a hotel room.

Renter's/homeowner's insurance WILL NOT cover your gear if you perform publicly--you need to purchase separate insurance from a specialized provider. Unless you're some "folk rockers" with $40k of custom shop electric guitars with you, it'll run ~$500 year.
Posted by tiktok on July 5, 2013 at 4:43 PM · Report this
The Guitar Store 18
I will pipe in here as the owner of The Guitar Store. Always take pictures of your serial numbers on your gear, make sure you save it in a file named "stuff I own" or the like. Get replacement estimates from dealers for collectable goods to keep on file. When you are on tour bring your guitars, mics and other small goods in to the hotel you are staying at. Remember car + guitar= bad. In the 20 years I have worked in shops 90 percent of all stolen gear I have heard of was in someones car. It blows me away how many people do not insure collections.
Posted by The Guitar Store on July 7, 2013 at 10:31 AM · Report this
tl;dr Don't leave anything of value unattended inside your motor vehicle, EVER. And get your stuff insured.
Posted by El Steven on July 8, 2013 at 4:21 PM · Report this
your rehearsal space is also a target. people know when you're about to tour, etc. I learned the hard way not to blab about where you're band is going and for how long. came back from 2 weeks on the road and the rehearsal space door was kicked in and the pa and a bunch of instruments got ripped off. Immediately got MusicPro for the gear we luckily had on the road, but too late.
Posted by delicatebeat on July 9, 2013 at 8:46 AM · Report this
The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) insurance with Marsh Affinity offers: Claims based on actual replacement cost; Coverage for theft; Coverage for equipment when it's off premises or in transit.

Instrument insurance is tax-deductible, as a normal business expense.

AFM members get a great insurance plan including, as well as local and national benefits.……

Unfortunately, no one in America has cheap healthcare right now; but Seattle musicians have access to very affordable dental insurance ($28.25 per month) through the local Musicians' Union.…

Posted by Seattle Musicians' Local 76-493 on July 9, 2013 at 10:57 AM · Report this

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