INSIDE OUT- Pt 2. Instrument and Gear Insurance

Ayron Jones guitar. (Photo: Mackenzie McAninch)

Ayron Jones’ guitar. (Photo: Mackenzie McAninch)

[Editor’s note: this editorial opinion piece reflects the views of the author alone.]

Most musicians own instruments that not only have significant monetary value, but that also hold extreme sentimental value.  Yet, as important as these instruments are to the holder (some irreplaceable), most musicians carry no instrument insurance.

So, what stops a musician from seeking an insurance quote? Pre-conceived notions for the most part. Most musicians never explore an instrument insurance quote because they believe it will be too expensive. In reality, it’s quite affordable, especially if three or more members in a band share the expense. Home or auto insurance won’t cover the stolen item. A homeowner’s policy won’t cover instruments if they re used to create income.

Most stolen instruments are vehicle smash and grabs, and even if auto insurance did pay for it, it’s very likely it would not compensate for the total loss unless an extra rider (costly) was purchased to cover over the limit. Standard auto personal property insurance is $500. So, a loss of $15,000 with a $500 personal property limit is $14,500 short of replacing the stolen items. Goodbye tour, gigs, so long future income, rent, musical dreams, until the lost items can be replaced, all which could’ve been avoided by taking a quick step to insure them.

I’m not endorsing any particular instrument insurance policy, but in my research of several plans, MPI MusicPro Insurance, seemed to be the overall favorite. Later in this article, I talk to Cody Beebe of Cody Beebe & The Crooks who have a MPI policy and used it to cover a recent loss.

I advise checking out the MPI site to learn more and use their Quick Quote Calculator to get an estimated yearly rate. It is surprisingly affordable, especially when considering the cost to replace everything without insurance. Bands need to quit setting up Go Fund Me accounts and asking their fans to pay for their negligence. If your fans offer to help, fine, but don’t expect them to shoulder your mistake. I suggest throwing a benefit concert if you should fall financially short, to help make up the difference after insurance has paid.

Who is eligible for coverage? Everyone is eligible and it’s not necessary to be professionally affiliated with a music industry group.

How long does it take to enroll, be approved, and kick in for use? It’s an easy online process. It usually takes 48 hours for approval. MPI does “not” base approval upon credit, and they don’t run credit checks. It also covers the cost to rent musical instruments/gear until your claim is processed and you’ve replaced your stuff so the show/tour can go on.

How much does it cost? The cost is $112 per $10,000 of coverage (use the calculator on the site to calculate your needs). Policies run from June 20 through June 20 each year. If you sign up today, they’ll prorate your premium. There is a $100 minimum premium per year.

What does it cover? Everything you want to be covered up to the limit will be replaced with like items. Exceptions to this rule are individual items over $25,000 value require an appraisal as well as vintage items you can’t replace. Higher limits are available for a small additional premium for vintage replacement with a new instrument. Classical musicians, there is a special tab on the site just for you.

Are there any other benefits included in the $10,000 coverage? On top of the $10k musician instrument/equipment coverage, at no extra charge, they cover $5000 in EDP (Electronic Data Processing.) This includes computers, hardware, software, etc. So if you’re laptop were stolen that contained your vital programs such as Pro Tools, your masters, backing tracks, etc, MPI will cover it up to $5000. Also included at no charge is $5000 of coverage for valuable papers (passports, identification, laminates, and business cards.) Passports alone can cost a fortune to replace. If you’re on tour in a foreign country and need to expedite passports for your band, it could cost thousands of dollars.

What’s covered? Coverage is for everything, all musical instruments and the equipment needed to operate them. The coverage is worldwide, this means that you will have coverage at your home, studio, practice space, while in transit to your “gig”, and at the performance venue, 24 hours a day/7 days a week. If you’re a band touring or traveling anywhere in the world, you’re covered. On the road, planes, trains, if something happens to your gear, it’s covered. This includes acts of nature (floods, hurricane, or earthquake, etc) theft, fire, damage, (excluding normal wear and tear), just about any scenario you can imagine is included except purposely trashing your gear, that cost is on you!

What is the deductible? There is a $100 deductible loss/claim, (not per item), and that’s an important feature of the MPI policy. So, if everything that the band owned was stolen, then it’s just the $100 deductible for the loss/claim, not per item (excluding personal items and of course, depending on the coverage amount on the policy).

If I call to ask questions will I get a recording? MPI encourages calls and a real person will answer the phone who is accustom to talking to musicians, and understands the music business. I’ve heard they’re very friendly and great to work with (classical musicians apply for Classical Instrument & Equipment policy).

So, you don’t think it will happen to you? It’s not “if” it will, it’s “when” it will. Just ask Cody Beebe and The Crooks, a full-time touring Pacific NW rock band. They’re who I consider very smart and business-saavy guys who have a lot of touring experience and were well prepared when they set off recently on their first 35-day European tour. Yet, they fell victim to stolen instruments, almost derailing their tour before it had even begun. I talked with leader Cody Beebe:

Cody Beebe & The Crooks

Cody Beebe & The Crooks

SMI: Have you ever lost instruments in the PNW?
CB: Yes, about three years ago in Spokane. Parked the van on the street at the hotel and someone broke out the window. Didn’t get much, only lost a guitar. Luckily everything else was in our trailer, but we had to pay about $300 to fix the window. Luckily for us, a few guys who used to be in the band, took leave and went into the insurance biz. Greg insured the equipment for 3-4 years as a security blanket, insuring all the guys computers, video camera, over $40,000 of equipment versus losing it to theft. For a touring band, setting aside approximately a $100 a month is affordable, especially for a band of five.
SMI: I know bands who spend that much on booze on a weekend. To me, there is no reason why a band can’t afford insurance. It should be considered a necessity. Honestly, if you consider yourself a pro band and you can’t afford insurance, maybe your band is really a hobby, not a business. People in business insure the tools of their trade. Cody, I recently read that you had instruments stolen on your European tour. What happened?
CB: We took “every” precaution and did our research, everything was well planned out. Skylar put Aaron’s keyboard, his pedals, and a Telecaster that he loved (which was once stolen from him 2-3 years ago and found on Craigslist), and even his personal optical contacts into a borrowed flight case. We paid about $500 extra for our baggage to get over there. We checked two heavy-duty flight cases into baggage and carried on or gate-checked our guitars to insure they would be on the flight. We flew United to Chicago and then changed planes to Swiss Air. When we arrived in Switzerland, two flight cases were missing (they’re not small).  We had three days in Bern, Switzerland and Aaron now has no keys, and Skylar no guitar. We, along with our business manager, started making calls. Airlines were pointing fingers at each other. Swiss Air didn’t want to claim responsibility, but how do you lose 2 huge flight cases? We suspect an inside job.
SMI: Aren’t there cameras in those holding areas? Seems like there should be footage that can be reviewed.
CB: That’s what we think too. We spent three days in Bern and never got one call from the airline after many calls to them. We spent a lot of time and hundreds of dollars on phone calls trying to locate the cases and line up replacement instruments for our first gig. Aaron, who is a heavy-handed keyboard player, now has to play on a rinky-dink “Casio-like” keyboard that the venue located for us, and Skylar still has no guitar. Luckily we zip-tied two acoustic guitar cases together and walked them on as a carry-on, or they were gate checked and put in the underbelly of the plane. But at least I know they’re on the plane and will be waiting for me on the tarmac when we arrive.  Note, you are at the mercy of the gate person if they feel like letting you on walk them on or not. I literally walked them on one flight only to be stopped at the next destination and told I have to check them in baggage. I argued that I just walked them on the last flight but it didn’t matter, the gate keeper wouldn’t allow it, so we cut them apart and two of us walked them on separately which is stupid. Know all airlines are not standardized. We spent extra handling charges per bag and they still didn’t make it!

So now we have a rinky-dink keyboard and two acoustic guitars, not exactly the Cody Beebe & The Crooks we were planning to show Europe, but we had no choice and they seemed appreciative all the same. A friend hooked us up with a better keyboard in Frankfort and we’re grateful. It’s hard to get used to a new instrument and it needs to be reprogrammed, a big headache! Besides hundreds of dollars on phone calls, we have now spent thousands on rentals and the whole ordeal is a blow to our mindset, energy, and shakes you up, it’s deflating. We spent so much time and energy trying to locate gear rentals to get up and running, it took away from the experience. Luckily we didn’t lose any merch, it was packed in our suitcases. The borrowed flight case cost about $800 and we had to repay the person we borrowed it from. In the end, no airline took responsibility for the lost flight cases. Three days before the end of our 35-day tour, we finally heard from Swiss Air, who insured $1300 per bag x 2 = $2600, about $1000 in incidentals and rentals in Europe and extra money for additional weight and inventory. We’ve had MusicPro Insurance for four years now. We have insured around $47,000 of equipment which is $800 a year ($67 a mo.) x 4 yrs = $3200. MPI cut us a check for $4700, so it has already paid for itself! Our fans wanted to help and came to a benefit concert at The Tractor Tavern, Seattle which helped make up the difference, and we’ve been able to replace lost instruments.
SMI: Musicians, if you have endorsement deals, contact them. Gibson helped The Crooks while in Spain by sending a guitar.
CB: Next time we go overseas, we’ll walk-on or gate check guitars and consider renting a keyboard (expensive). We’re just thankful we had insurance, this could’ve been a whole lot worse!
SMI: Thank you Cody Beebe for sharing your story. Musicians, read more about airline travel with instruments. Be prepared and insure. Don’t think it won’t happen to you. It’s just a matter of time. Don’t be lax.  Lax = Loss!

If you missed Part 1:  Stolen- The Dos and Don’ts To Prevent Instrument Loss

I’ve found some additional sites to help you track and recover stolen instruments/gear:  An online instrument registry designed to deter instrument theft and aid in the recovery of    stolen music equipment. Register your stolen instruments for free with us and we’ll help you on the road to recovery.  A portable wireless alarm system with GPS designed to protect high value mobile assets. The device, about the size of a deck of cards, can be mounted in a hidden area on any remote or mobile asset. (guitar case, van, inside amp.)  Protects your instruments using smartphones’ GPS and cellular location technologies. A GPSRoadie enabled phone can protect instruments, tour vans and tour trailers simply by turning on the app and placing it inside.  Simply attach the iTraq to any of your valuables and locate them anywhere in the WORLD using your smartphone.  It’s an RFID chip that you put inside your guitar. If it gets pawned, the shop will notify authorities and you that it entered their network.

Drop me a line and share your stories or tips so I can share them with other musicians, or send me topic suggestions you’d like me to cover in the future.

Robin Fairbanks has spent 30+ years in the Music Industry in many capacities. Working in the Seattle music scene since 2006 as a Manager/Booker, she’s known for her ethics and artist development skills. Robin has guided the careers of many, but most notable as the former Manager of Seattle Garage/Blues band Fox and The Law for 3.5 years. Robin has spent the last 2 yrs consulting with Artists who seek her help as a Music Consultant and Publicist with Setlist Music Solutions LLC. She also gives of her time as an advisor to Seattle Wave Radio, an Internet music station where she helped shape its sound as the ROCK Channel Music Director for 2+ yrs upon its launch in 2010 and where you’ll find her music blog, “Bird On A Wire“. In 2014, Robin also worked as a Contributing Music Writer for Guerrilla Candy.