Hey, Don't Steal My Music, Man

Prevent Instrument Loss – The Do’s and Don’ts – Part 1

Gigs4U guest blogger, Robin Fairbanks, is a 30+ year music industry veteran and local Seattle music writer, publicist and consultant. Robin published this article 2 years ago for SMI-Seattle Music Insider and we asked if we could share it with our readers. We know Robin shares it each year around festival season when most ‘smash and grabs’ and theft occur.

We hope you find it as helpful and interesting as we did. Please share it with other musicians. Beyond the sentimental value you place on your instruments/gear, if you’re a working musician, they’re also the tools of your trade and you can’t afford to lose them to theft and should not expect your fan base to fund your loss due to negligence. Read on for tips on how to prevent, protect and recover lost instruments/gear.

Part 1: The Do’s and Don’ts To Prevent Instrument Loss:
Desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s becoming an all too frequent occurrence to click on Facebook and see a post from a band that had their van broken into and lost instruments, gear, merch and even money. Smash and grabs are on the rise and will continue to plague the music industry so artists must be diligent in taking preventative steps to reduce the chance of loss. The industry is entering in to Summer Tour/Festival Season where more artists than ever are out on the road where most theft occurs. Fact: Most smash & grabs only take 3 minutes.
It’s puzzling in talking with many musicians, how many of them have no preventative or loss plan in place, carry no instrument/gear insurance, and don’t have an inventory of their instruments, gear, with photos, serial numbers, and receipts.

If you’re a touring band, your livelihood is your music so like any other trade, you must protect the tools of your trade, in this instance, your musical instruments and gear.

DON’T

  • Wrap your van or display your band name on your van, bus, car, or trailer. That’s an open invitation to thieves to help themselves to your gear.
  • Leave show flyers on your dash or seat, nothing visible that would point to you being a band.
  • Park your van or trailer on the street or in any dark/sketchy lots or areas. It only takes minutes to smash and grab.
  • Leave your instruments in your vehicle unattended… EVER! A tarp, blanket, or sleeping bag is “not” a cloaking device. No one tries to hide something of “no value.”
  • Take any instruments or gear of heirloom or significant value on the road unless you’re prepared to lose it.
  • Leave anything of value in the Green Room unattended. You never know who is back there and most clubs don’t have security watching the room.
  • When loading-in or out, never leave any gear unattended. Always have one member who stays with the vehicle until all gear inside. Don’t assume it won’t happen because it hasn’t happened yet, it’s only a matter of time!
  • Never lapse on watchfulness, if you do, your whole band will suffer for it. It’s when you become comfortable and complacent that incidents occur and usually it’s that 1 time out of 100.
  • Think you don’t need an alarm, heavy duty locks, or a club? Don’t make it easy on them, if they’re going to get your gear, make them work hard for it. The noise may alert someone.
  • Announce at shows where you’re staying or tell anyone at the club or in a Radio interview. You never know who is listening and may rob you.

DO

  • Park in well-lit/safe areas. Try to stay in hotels outside the city and downtown areas.
  • Create rituals of checking vehicle frequently and be diligent. Back van up so the door is as close as possible to the building to prevent entry and park right outside your room.
  • Install a car alarm, a club, and heavy duty locks.
  • Bring your guitars into your room at night and if you have space, all instruments no matter how tired you are.
  • Park where you can see the vehicle at all times when stopping for food/restroom breaks, or take turns watching the van while the others go in for takeout.
  • Pay attention to anyone hanging around the area at load-in or load-out that is not a member of another band on the bill. They might be casing you or may follow you to see where you’re staying and break in later.
  • Leave heirloom or sentimental instruments at home for studio or special occasion gigs.
  • Get a Square and a nationally recognized bank account so you can deposit any cash merch sale money nightly when on tour. Never leave money in your vehicle or in an unattended cash box or carry large amounts of money on you.
  • Take all personal effects (wallets, watches, i-pads, cellphones, etc. with you on stage or have your Manager or trusted appointed family member/friend gather them up and hold them for you until after the show.
  • Get instrument insurance. Keep receipts for all purchased instruments/gear/computers, photos, and an inventory list with serial numbers and full descriptions in a separate file on more than one computer or on the Cloud where you can access it from anywhere.
  • Assign someone from your camp to stay in the Green Room to watch over your personal belongings. Many a favorite jacket has been stolen among other items.
  • Report stolen items to police immediately as well as your instrument insurance company, and provide them with all the details and serial numbers. Do not delay, it looks sketchy if you wait and report it later. (Auto insurance will not cover smash/grab).
  • Post immediately the photos/descriptions on your social media and ask your friends to watch for these items and contact you if they see them or someone tries to sell an item to them.
    Call or visit pawn shops in your area and within 2-3 counties and give them the photo, description, and serial #’. Watch Craigslist. Most thieves will sell the instrument/gear within 24-48 hours.
  • Contact any company that you have endorsements with to see if they can help provide you with temporary loaner instruments/gear.

I spoke with Trevor Boone of Seattle’s Emerald City Guitars because they’re well respected and known for their knowledge, quality, and service since 1996.

RF: What do you look for when someone brings in a guitar for trade or sale that may tip you off that it might be stolen?

TB: We have a great grasp on what a stolen guitar looks like when it comes in. Sketchy people, hurry to sell, no case, “a friend gave it to them”, among other giveaways. We don’t even bother with sketchy deals. The price could be great but if the vibe is off, we just say no.

RF: Do you run serial numbers off guitars brought in to check if they’re stolen?

TB: We keep guitar serial numbers and check around Craigslist and Facebook to see if anyone has posted about stolen instruments. When a guitar is stolen, generally it’s a drug addict. They will sell it day of or as quick as possible. They’ll show up at pawn shows usually day of. You “must” provide an ID to sell, but sometimes they’ll have another person sell the guitar for them and split the cash. Pawn shops hold the instrument for 30 days incase its stolen, that’s why it’s important to file a police report immediately. The personal information of the seller is private and the pawn shop can’t give that information to the public. Take inventory of your instruments/gear so hopefully they turn up at Guitar Center or a pawn shop. We do more personal transactions here so we don’t entertain the anxious junkie with a guitar and no case. However, I do jot down as much info about the person and instrument in case I find out later it’s stolen. I take down the serial #, description of the attempted seller, and if I can, get their license plate number. NEVER leave guitars in your car, you’re asking for it unfortunately. I’ve heard so many horror stories that I’ve slept with my guitars while on out of town gigs.

A visit to Yuppie Pawn Shop and a chat with Co-Owner Karen Moskowitz validated that musical instruments are a hot commodity. She had this to say:

RF: Can you tell me when someone brings in a guitar, what happens?

YP: We take an ID/License if a seller. We hold a guitar for 30 days if a sell and 90 days if a Pawn. We run the serial numbers through the police department and a worldwide system online to see if they’re stolen. That’s why it’s important for bands to immediately report them to the police. If a guitar is stolen and you have the serial number and receipt, you have a good chance of getting it back unlike jewelry which is hard to trace without indelible marks or engraving so most likely, you will never see it again. If you do a police report and supply them with the serial numbers, if someone sells or pawns it, that shop is going to run those numbers and discover it’s stolen.

RF: Would it be beneficial to supply photos to police with report as well as stop into local pawn shops and provide them with a photo, description, serial numbers, along with their contact information?

YP: Yes, supplying a photo and a full description or note of any special markings help. Bands need to insure their equipment, have receipts, descriptions, photos, and serial numbers, report loss to police right away, and quit leaving their instruments and equipment in their cars, vans, and trailers unattended. Unfortunately, bands don’t seem to learn from their mistakes even after a previous loss. If you take the necessary precautions and your gear is stolen, you have a good chance of getting it back. We welcome bands stopping in to provide us with information to keep a watch.

Come back next week for continuation on this topic.

Part 2: Instrument Insurance: Debunking the myths. Is it affordable? Where do you get it? Cody Beebe of Cody Beebe and the Crooks, shares his thoughts on instrument insurance, his band’s experience with instrument theft, how they recovered from a devastating loss while on their first European tour, and tips to prevent it from happening to you!
About/Articles by Robin Fairbanks: https://seattlemusicinsider.com/author/rockinrobin/