It’s discouraging to acknowledge that bands getting robbed is neither a rare nor passing phenomenon. In fact, it seems to be happening with more frequency. Earlier this month, Polaris Prize-nominated musician Andy Shauf had his gear and merch stolen in Atlanta; he shared a complete inventory of the stolen items. A few weeks ago, Minnesota’s pop-punks Remo Drive had their van broken into in Chicago, though miraculously, they only suffered the loss of a few personal items. In a bizarre turn of events, Toronto’s Fast Romantics had their entire van stolen and then found—with most gear accounted for—over the course of a single day in Vancouver
Unfortunately, these aren’t isolated instances. Google ‘bands getting robbed’ and you’ll be met with a slew of results, all from this year. Sometimes these have apparent happy endings; indie-punk golden boy Jeff Rosenstock and his band had most of their gear stolen in San Francisco in late 2015, but a GoFundMe campaign generated the estimated cost of the stolen items. Similarly, a GoFundMe to reimburse Shauf for his losses exceeded the goal of $15,000.
We're all absolutely stunned. An angel of a woman named Jillian heard on the Peak that our van was missing and called the cops. The full story is on our last Facebook post but this picture pretty much sums up the story. We're just blown away by humans helping humans here. Thanks @thepeakvancouver, and Jillian, and of course, everyone who shared our posts. We're all pretty teary with joy over here. ❤️
From the outside, these fundraising campaigns look like clear-cut victories: gear gets stolen, money gets raised, gear gets replaced, case closed. But it’s not that simple. A strictly capitalistic view is insufficient, failing to recognize the nuanced nature of these losses. The psychological trauma of robbery is well-documented and researched, and replacing gear isn’t always easy or satisfactory; sentimental value assigned to long-time instruments is as real as that attached to a family heirloom. So the idea that money can buy back all that was lost is flawed and cumbersome.
The bands that suffer the brunt of this crime are (using popularity and profits as crude metrics) mid-tolower-level bands. Their gear gets stolen because unattended vans are easier to break into than U2’s fleet of tour buses. These bands are playing clubs and bars, not arenas. They’re working their own merch tables; they’re driving their own vans across the country, changing their own strings, and loading their own gear. For these bands, the stakes are higher; playing shows is their primary means of survival (‘singing for your supper’ kinda deal). Stealing their gear is the exact same as stripping a plumber of his tools or a businessman of his work laptop: musicians are normal people, and stealing their work tools takes away their means of income, and thereby, their means of sustenance.
This urgency is compounded with the fact that most, if not all, thefts occur while a band is in the midst of a tour. Waiting on a crowd-funding campaign isn’t always feasible; to keep the tour afloat, replacement amps, guitars, keys, drums, and all other gear need to be bought immediately (as illustrated above, this is an exceptionally costly endeavour). Besides, not every band has a well-nurtured social media presence, meaning that broadly disseminating word of a theft or break-in isn’t easy. Not everyone can get their gear replaced by Metallica.
There are a handful of articles with tips for reducing the risk of being robbed on tour. Some recommend stencilling a fake company on the side of your van as a deterrent, although the one that suggests hiring a dirty grindcore dude to stay in your van at all times and threaten potential thieves with a shiv is probably the most bulletproof. Itemizing your gear, including list price, model number, and defining features, is a practice most touring bands are familiar with anyway, and insuring instruments is an extra step to lessen a financial hit. But these are harm-reduction strategies, and they don’t guarantee your van’s contents won’t get ransacked and hocked on Craigslist.
So if you see someone robbing a band’s van, or see someone selling shady gear on Kijiji, call the cops or yell at them or alert the band or flick your boogers at them or something. When bands post that they’ve been robbed, share it; Tweet it, post it on your Facebook, slap a filter on it and put it on Instagram, tell your dog to tell the other neighbourhood dogs. Do anything you can to spread the word, because the best case (though, sadly, rare) scenario is that the band is reunited with their beloved equipment, the thief is apprehended, and the tour goes on. If the band starts a crowd-funding campaign to recoup their losses, contribute! Whether it’s five dollars or fifty, each little bit counts, and be sure to append a sweet, encouraging message, too; spirits will certainly need lifting.
After all the tips and tricks to reduce risk, the onus isn’t on artists to not get robbed, so to all who might be targeting these road-hardened creators, I have one super-easy imperative: please stop robbing bands. Just don’t do it, pal. If you do, you’ll be a) a huge mean jerk, b) ruining someone’s livelihood, and c) taking away from a creative culture. So please, for the love of all that’s loud and dance-worthy, stop robbing bands, you assholes.