So you landed that sweet gig at the local venue. Hours before the show you load your rig into your personal vehicle, make the drive, and set up. There’s time before downbeat, and you’re hungry, so you figure it’ll only be a half hour to grab a quick burger at the diner across town. While munching on fries you hear some sirens in the distance, but don’t give it another thought…
Until you turn the corner on the way back to the venue. The street is blocked off, you smell smoke and the flashing lights seem to be right in front of the old theater you loaded your $15,000 system into just two hours ago. Your heart sinks as you approach a building you’ve heard described in news reports as “fully involved”.
There were no injuries. That’s the good news. But the old structure didn’t stand a chance, and burned to the ground with all your gear. The bad news continues as you learn that the owners had let their insurance lapse, so now your only hope is your homeowner’s policy. You call your agent.
That conversation doesn’t start well…”Your homeowner’s policy only covers your personal property outside the home if it’s not used in a professional capacity. You were getting paid for that show, weren’t you?” The rest of the conversation is mostly a blur, as you realize you’ve lost years of hard work and earnings, and won’t be able to work for months, if ever.
Most of us think nothing bad will happen, and that’s mostly true. Many of us assume that our homeowner’s insurance policy covers our gear, since that’s personal property, right? Yes it is, but there are limits to where it’s covered (while it’s in your home or car) and how it’s used (often only for personal enjoyment, not professional employment). Additionally, dollar limits and deductibles apply, and it’s very easy to exceed them with pricey sound and music gear. Finally, if the policy doesn’t cover replacement value (what it costs to buy new gear) then the insurance company can and will use “fair market value” to determine what they’ll pay. Fair market value is defined as the value of something sold by someone who doesn’t have to sell, to a buyer who doesn’t have to buy. This translates to, “not a whole lot”. Vintage gear might be worth a lot to musicians, but insurance companies may simply view it as “old”.
What to do? First, I recommend you always find a reputable independent insurance agent and discuss your situation. They work for you, not the insurance companies whose policies they sell, and will give you honest and accurate advice and information. Insurance laws and regulations vary by state and region, so what applies in one place may not be accurate in another.
Next, get an accurate inventory of your gear. Determine what you paid. Saving receipts will pay off here. Incidentally, it’s a good idea to make photocopies of receipts, as the ink used on many register receipts fades to ‘invisible’ in a few years. Take photos of everything, and save them to a disc or thumb drive. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have multiples of all this info, and keep them in different places if possible.
So what sort of coverage can you buy? For the most part, if you use your gear outside the home, your agent will probably recommend what’s known as an Inland Marine policy. Marine? Huh? That’s just an old term that goes way back, when insurance companies that covered ocean shipping decided to also cover goods moved across land. Inland marine policies cover specialized items and items that are often transported. For us, it simply means our music gear is covered.
These policies are not as regulated as your homeowner’s or auto policy, and they’re specialized insurance, so expect the premium to be higher than you might think. When deciding on a policy, always weigh the cost of coverage against the potential loss you would incur should it be stolen or destroyed. Do you earn a portion of, or all of your living with it? Can you afford to simply buy replacements on your own? Do you either store or use your gear in a high-crime area?
If you can afford to carry some of the cost of a loss, you might have the option of a higher deductible in exchange for a lower premium. Just be sure you’ve got the cash or credit to cover the deductible in the event something happens.
Are you in the AFM? Musician’s Union members in the US can purchase insurance for their instruments and gear through the unions “All-Risk Musician Instrument and Equipment Insurance Plan”. I’m not a union member and don’t have access to the details of the policies, but have heard from members who say the premiums are quite competitive with Inland Marine policies. As always, compare price and coverage directly before making a decision. It wouldn’t hurt to show any policy you’re considering to your agent to get a professional opinion.
Once you’ve got a policy you’re happy with, don’t forget to keep your coverage up to date. If you invest in a new instrument or sound gear, be sure the coverage amounts will include the new acquisition. A quick call to your agent can increase coverage and give you peace of mind. And of course, if you sell off some of your rig and don’t plan new purchases (I know, who does that?) you might consider lowering coverage.
· Never assume you’re covered without checking your policy.
· Find an agent and establish a working relationship.
· Know your gear inventory and its value/replacement cost.
· Weigh cost against coverage and any deductibles.
· Maintain your gear inventory so you can increase or decrease coverage as you buy or sell items.
Nobody wants to think their possessions will be stolen or damaged by an accident. But we all know it happens. Getting some insurance coverage obviously isn’t free, but the peace of mind of knowing you can be restored quickly after a loss is worth the investment.