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Risky Business

Third party, fire and theft, mad fans and crashed vans... Phil Walsh looks into insurance for musicians

Gigging can be a dangerous game: your gear might be pinched or wrecked, or you might unwittingly do some damage to the punters — and face a hefty lawsuit. So let Phil Walsh sell you some insurance...

How do you fancy having to pay for all the repairs to the group's van after a crash, despite the fact that you've been paying the insurance on it for years? No? Well how about being sued for £10,000+ because someone tripped over one of the cables on stage as he came up to thank you for a wonderful evening? Well alright then, what about the van full of gear being pinched whilst you were all sitting down to egg, chips, beans and grease in a transport cafe and you've got your big-break audition at the end of the week but suddenly no gear?

Now you and I both know that you're sitting there thinking "it's all right that sort of thing will never happen to me." Fair enough but just on the off-chance that it might, it might be worth reading on just to see what the pitfalls are.

Motor Insurance — Money Down the Drain?

Let's expand the scenario a bit. You're on your way back from a booking. The back of your estate car is crammed with gear. Suddenly the car coming towards you swerves and clips you. Fade to Scene Two. You wake up in hospital to find your local, friendly fuzz asking for a statement on what happened. Realising that you haven't declared your black economy group work to the insurance company you tell them about how you were on your way back from a mate's house where you had been playing just for fun. Having established that it was all the other bloke's fault the law leaves. Enter mother/brother/girlfriend/wife/mistress/other members etc (delete as applicable) to see how you are. In conversation you realise that someone has helpfully told the filth that you were on your way back from a booking, and no you never drink on stage. At this point your visitors become rather concerned at the look of agony that crosses your face.

It is a fact of life that insurance companies will look carefully at any claim and the fact that you were on undeclared business is enough to stuff you. You are now liable for the repairs to not only the other chap's car but also, in all probability, for your own as well. The insurance companies, of course, will just sit back and laugh having taken your (non-returnable) premium and having a legitimate reason to avoid paying out on the claim.

Before you break out into a sweat you'd better pray that the other driver or his passengers are not going to sue for personal injury as well. Scene three shows you a year later with debts up to your eyeballs and no prospect of being anything but poor for the forseeable future.

Having said all this, there are no standard motor policies designed for musicians or other performing artists but you should reveal it to your broker or company in order to arrange special terms. It will possibly cost you a little more, but what price peace of mind?

As a guide, I play in a semi-pro band and I reckon it costs me an extra 10% on the normal policy premium.

Public Liability Insurance — a Pessimist's Guide.

This aspect of insurance is usually totally ignored by most bands due to an overriding, and often misplaced, sense of optimism. What with PA cabs on tripod stands, lighting rigs with hot lamps, smoke machines, pyrotechnics, high voltages on stage etc, the chances of something going wrong and a member of the audience copping something are a little too high to be ignored. To protect yourselves against costly legal action when a PA cab topples and breaks someone's leg, a lamp shattering and flinging hot glass at the audience or something wrong with your electrics causing the venue to burn down etc, you need Public Liability Insurance.

Owing to the reputation that bands tend to have amongst the toffee nosed insurance establishment, PLI is quite difficult to obtain as any promoter will tell you. The best way to go for it is probably through an insurance broker. As he gets paid through commission on the policies he arranges, it's in his interest to find you a suitable policy.

Equipment Insurance — New Amps for Old?

There are a few specialist insurers who deal with this side of the market, covering your gear against accidental damage and theft — including theft of or from a vehicle. Most policies offer a new replacement of the gear and some also cover a limited time abroad in Western Europe — useful if you do the odd tour or summer residency abroad. It turns out to be fairly expensive, starting at about £50 per £1000 of gear per annum.

Often you can insure all the gear in the group's name and this turns out to be cheaper as the premium per £1000 decreases as the total amount insured increases. When you're working out the list of items to be insured don't forget to include all the little things such as microphones, leads, plugboards etc so that if the worst happens and you lose all your gear you won't be out of pocket in order to get back on the road. This type of insurance is only available through brokers.

Great — My Uncle's an Insurance Agent...

Sad to say, most brokers don't have much expertise in this field, so just any broker won't be much good. If you're a member of the Musician's Union, then you can use their Instrument Benefit Scheme to cover your gear. This scheme is run by MU Benefits Administration — their phone number and address are on the back of your membership card. Alternatively you can get help from their Insurance Advisory Service which is run by a company called Victor C Knight Ltd. ((Contact Details)). Even if you're not in the MU that company will still deal with you on an individual or group basis. Now I'm not saying that they're the only ones who do it but it is advisable to deal with someone who:-

(a) is a registered broker
(b) is well versed in the requirements of musos
(c) can tell the difference between a Strat and a DX7
(d) is aware of the pitfalls of the trade — eg gear nicked from an unattended van.

For those people who avoid brokers because of the expense, it's worth pointing out that the broker's commission is paid by the insurance company, not you. A broker who knows what he is doing can save you money as well as time and hassle because he will know where to find the best deals; he will not, however, be able to perform miracles — the all-risks policy for the group's gear for the cost of a pint just doesn't exist!

There we are, a brief tour through the insurance jungle — if you need any more advice on any of the aspects I've touched upon, go see a broker and get the lowdown.

Many thanks to Allan Clark for assistance with this feature.

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International Musician & Recording World - Copyright: Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


International Musician - Dec 1986

Feature by Phil Walsh

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