Image credit: The Bayonettes
Someone once said, “A musician is someone who loads $5,000 worth of gear into a $500 car to drive 100 miles to a $50 gig”. No matter what price you command, your gear is the most valuable part; not just to you but to potential thieves too. Protecting your equipment while you’re on the road is one of the constant headaches of being a musician. So we’ve created a handy guide on how to keep your gear safe while you’re on tour.
How to keep your instruments and music equipment safe on the road
Touring is an important part of being a musician; some artists can spend months away from home at a time. While it’s easy to romanticise life on the road, it can also be where your gear is at its most vulnerable.
James Riley, a country singer from London, who now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, compares looking after his gear to “being a squaddie in the army… you never lose sight of your gun!”
James was recently on tour in the UK and talked us through what he took with him:
“I’m a solo act, so when touring I can generally carry everything I need. I take my guitar, a mic, my laptop, some cables and a suitcase of merchandise. Plus, obviously, clothes. It’s a bit like backpacking.”
Once his gig is over, he rarely lets his gear out of his sight and keeps it with him at all times. Riley also feels that he needs to be more vigilant in the US than in the UK.
“Equipment theft is more common in the US. There’s just more crime generally, but that doesn’t put me off. Most people who work in music, unlike many other industries, are really doing it for the love. It’s not a path to getting rich quick.”
Car, vans and even buses can be easy to break into so never leave your gear in your vehicle overnight. However, it can be even easier to steal a trailer. Texan band, Los Igualados, had their trailer stolen from a hotel carpark in Texas in July, containing over $50,000 of equipment. If using a trailer, make sure you use a wheel clamp, alarm and a hitch lock to deter thieves.
Mind you, theft is not the only issue when you are on the road. Instrument and equipment damage can also pose a problem.
The Bayonettes, an alternative indie rock band from Portsmouth, have been travelling the UK this summer, going from festival to festival. They use a Volkswagen Transporter van, which normally contains a drum kit, guitar amps, pedal boards and guitars along with various spares, accessories and merchandise.
“Most of our gear is stored in hard flight cases so if it gets bashed about, the equipment inside doesn’t get damaged. The cases are all locked and marked with our logo,” said John Whittle, vocalist and rhythm guitarist. Having your logo plastered all over your equipment also helps prevent someone accidently taking your kit at the venue, and can also make it harder for a thief to sell on the gear as quickly.
If you are the road, follow these simple rules to help keep your stuff safe:
- Always unload your gear: Yes, even if it’s 4am and you’re in a Premier Inn car park
- Never use a trailer if you can avoid it: They are easy to unhitch and make off with. If you must use a one, padlock the hitch and door, use a wheel clamp and potentially invest in an alarm and a GPS tracker
- Avoid leaving your instrument(s) in view. In fact, don’t leave them unattended in the car if at all possible!
- Don’t use your best gear on tour: If you’re worried about your stuff being stolen, maybe use cheaper instruments or equipment if you can
- Have decoys: Putting low-quality equipment to the fore could deter thieves.
- Use flight cases: This helps reduce damage in transit and like the Bayonettes, put your logo on them if you can.
How to keep your gear safe at the venue
It’s not just your transport that your gear can be stolen from. Thefts from inside music venues can also be a problem. In 2015, Bill Bailey had his whole tour bus stolen after the thief managed to get into the backstage area Liverpool Philharmonic, and steal laptops and the keys to the bus. The tour bus was eventually recovered.
When you get to a venue, ask if there’s a safe place to store your equipment and make a checklist to ensure nothing is missing at the end. It can be easy to miss things when it’s late and you’re tired after the show.
“Most venues are good at providing storage backstage where it’s relatively safe. We also have a tech spec, which is checked off before we leave anywhere,” said John Whittle.
“You really want storage away from the general public, either backstage or in green rooms, which can be locked. Some smaller venues do, often rely a little bit on the trust and goodwill between the bands that are sharing the storage space. Touch wood, to date we have never had an issue.”
What do the security experts say?
Though the risk of theft and damage can never be totally eliminated, steps can be taken to reduce the risk.
We spoke to a security expert, Anthony Neary, Managing Director of safe.co.uk, adviced how bands and musicians can protect their gear while on tour.
“With the expense associated with band equipment, it’s vital that security concerns are addressed before travel to make sure everything runs smoothly on tour. Aluminium transport boxes are a great way of keeping larger pieces of kit safe during transit, with abrasion-resistant foam interiors and sturdy outer structures protecting the delicate equipment inside.”
“For any smaller gadgets, safes can be taken on board the tour bus to keep smaller items secure when the bus is left unattended.”
If you’re travelling with high-value equipment, and want to feel like James Bond, Neary recommends:
“Fingerprint safes: They offer high security and come with backup keys in case of a lockout (but we’d always recommend these were kept somewhere separate to the tour bus, just in case!). Alternatively, a ‘high insurance rating’ safe is best for high-value items, offering protection for the band’s valuables as well as personal items. Look out for safes that come with fire ratings, offering protection against flame and heat damage for extra security.”
Band and musician insurance
While insurance can’t stop your instruments and sound equipment from being stolen, it can certainly help to replace them. Our guide below outlines the basics for band and musician insurance:
Equipment insurance: You can cover your instrument(s) from theft and damage no matter where you are. If you are touring outside the UK, you simply need to add on European or worldwide cover. Some policies include ‘new for old’, which means your instrument(s) will be replaced with a new one if lost, stolen or damaged, and less than three years old and was purchased new. Or, less than 18 months old for laptops.
Musician insurance: If you are performing in venues then you will need Music Liability cover. This is essentially Public Liability insurance and covers you in case you injure another person, damage third-party property or cause damage to a venue you are playing at. Some policies also include Professional Indemnity cover, which can cover you if you give advice to others that results in a negative outcome.
Band insurance: This covers everyone in the band, group or orchestra for Personal Accident, Music Liability, Equipment and Performance cover.
Performance insurance: If you get paid to play, this type of insurance will cover you for loss of earnings, equipment breakdown and music equipment hire.
While insurance will help keep your instruments and equipment safe and secure, you cannot stop a determined thief. We’ll give the last word to Nashville musician Riley: “There’s no way to eliminate risk completely, and you generally just have to get on with it, and touch wood, everything will work out.”
Insure4Music offers tailor-made band, instrument and musician insurance across the UK. Get an instant quote today!