What Working Musicians Need to Know About Property Insurance for Their Instruments

It’s a sad fact of life, but instruments and other gear, as well as loaded vans and trailers, can and do get damaged and stolen at home and on tour.

“I always say a prayer when I check my instrument at an airline,” says Craig Hultgren, cellist and most recently a member of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. Hultgren goes on several tours per year, and among his chief concerns while traveling is making sure his tour kit — his bow alone is worth $18,000 — arrives in one piece.

“I play a 200-year-old Italian instrument, as well as a variety of others,” Hultgren says. “Traveling with these, they can take a beating.” In addition to using road-ready cases and documenting their contents, Hultgren protects his gear and his livelihood with adequate property insurance so that if it disappears or is destroyed, at least it’s not an economic catastrophe.

Whether it’s a 200-year-old cello or a workhorse amp, making sure that your gear is properly insured is just good business sense, says Laura Donelan, assistant VP and business development leader at MusicPro Insurance, an agency specializing in insurance for musicians. “One accident can mean the end of a tour, loss of income or even the end of a career if you’re not covered,” she says.

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Hultgren currently is in the market for new insurance and one of his primary concerns is cost. While some musicians may choose travel insurance when traveling by air, this is a not good option for him since the value of his gear is more than what is covered in a typical baggage policy. For those with lesser-valued instruments who do choose that route, it is important to keep in mind that some plans require original purchase receipts for items valued at $150 or more. So know what kind of documentation you’ll need beforehand.

“We typically don’t have a lot of extra money to spend,” he says, but that is no reason to skimp. Many musicians think they can save cash by covering their instrument via homeowner insurance policies. But, unless you’re an amateur, with minimum exposure, that could be a costly mistake.

Most standard property insurance policies protect assets only at a primary business location, like a studio, explains Ted Devine, CEO of small-business insurance company Insureon. To ensure coverage on the road, touring musicians need their insurance provider to write the coverage on a “damage away from premises,” form he says. In addition, touring musicians likely need vehicle insurance and general liability insurance in addition to property insurance to maximize their protection.

“Make sure you clarify with your agent when and how often your gear will be away from the home or studio, as well as which items will travel,” Devine says. “The devil’s in the details, so it’s best to be specific.”

An agency dedicated to serving musicians, like MusicPro, may instead offer an inland marine policy, which provides coverage for equipment worldwide when it is being moved around.

“If there is a loss, a homeowner’s insurance company is very likely to deny payment if the equipment is used for business purposes,” MusicPro’s Donelan says. “Plus, many homeowner’s policies do not cover equipment if it leaves the home.” But there are ways for cash-strapped musicians to save.


Replacement vs. Cash Value

Insureon’s Devine points out that many carriers offer two levels of property coverage. “The more expensive kind, replacement-value coverage, covers you for replacing everything with new gear. The cheaper option pays you what it would cost to buy used equivalents of what you currently have,” he explains. “If your gear isn’t super-specialized, and you could easily replace it with secondhand pieces, ask your agent about actual-cash-value coverage, which might save you on your premium.”

Lists and Limits

Doing an inventory of gear and equipment should help you estimate what your coverage limit should be and what type of policy to buy. “We always advise clients to estimate what everything is worth today, whether that’s more or less than the original purchase price,” Donelan says. “For items that are no longer manufactured, they should estimate what it would cost to replace with something of similar quality.”

But it’s also important to drill down into the details of specific coverage for damage and loss of value for any plan you’re considering. For example, some instruments and gear, if taken care of properly, can increase in value, so you’ll want to establish beforehand what documentation you would need in order to file a claim and be reimbursed.

No matter which level of property insurance you choose, Donelan emphasizes the importance of understanding any exclusions or limitations in a policy — in other words, situations where the policy would not provide the coverage you need. “For example, some policies may have limitations regarding theft from an unattended vehicle, or exclude flood damage in a basement,” she says.


Get in the Van

For bands traveling by car, van or bus, ask your agent whether your personal auto policy covers driving for a tour. In addition, if your vehicle is only being used for touring, you may need a commercial policy.

“Often, personal auto insurance specifically excludes damage that occurs when the vehicle is being used for business purposes, which can be an unpleasant surprise if you’re hit on the road,” Devine says. “There are commercial policies, including one called ‘hired and non-owned auto insurance,’ that can fill the gaps and keep a vehicle protected when a musician is on the road.”

Devine says there are also scenarios where musicians on the road might be happy to have general liability insurance, which offers protection if a musician is sued by a third party for personal injury or property damage.

“Let’s say you’re playing a show at a bar when a fight breaks out,” he explains, “and one guy grabs your mic stand and hits another guy with it. It gets ugly and one of them leaves in an ambulance. While the bar owner’s insurance can usually pay for that ambulance ride, there’s a chance that the hurt party will want compensation for his injuries. When he goes to a lawyer to see what his options are, the lawyer’s move is usually to file a lawsuit against anyone who could conceivably be held liable: the bar owner, the landlord and the musician playing. After all, it was your mic stand that injured the guy.”

A general liability policy can cover costs for this type of lawsuit, including lawyers’ bills and any judgments or settlements you’re found liable for paying. For general liability, $1 million is a pretty standard policy limit for home-based businesses like musicians, Devine says. He also points out that premiums are usually affordable — often between $400 and $600 per year — and many policies have no deductible.

“If you’re playing at venues where people are drinking, a lot is out of your control,” Devine says. “The chances of someone getting hurt or damaging your gear go up when alcohol is involved. Lawsuits of this kind certainly aren’t common, but they can be financially devastating when they do happen.”

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