Richard James Burgess
President & CEO
Years with Company: 8
Address: 132 Delancey St., 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10002
Email: [email protected]
Clients: Approximately 600 labels and 200 associate member companies including Spotify, YouTube, Apple, Amazon and SoundExchange
Richard James Burgess became the president of the American Association of Independent Music in 2019, but he’s been the nonprofit’s CEO since 2016. To further expand the organization’s offerings, he brought affordable insurance of all kinds to A2IM’s members. He’s also a musician himself, with a reissue of old material from his band Landscape released this July.
The Broken System
Health insurance is so difficult here. We all know people who are tied to a job to get benefits. I’ve always wondered if we could do something about it. And when I came to A2IM, it occurred to me that maybe we could.
It horrifies me the amount of people that are uninsured and don’t know, if something happens, how they’re going to deal with it. I can’t imagine what it feels like not to have health insurance if you have a young family. You’re basically just trusting that nothing bad is going to happen. And, of course, bad things do happen. So this is sort of a mission to me. I felt we needed to do what we could to alleviate this stress on people.
Finding the Right Home
I started looking [for a solution] back in 2016. We just kept running into brick wall after brick wall. Most of the major health insurers wouldn’t call us back. It felt like every door was closed. Suddenly, this company pops up, I guess about a year ago. It seemed too be good to be true. When we looked into it, it does in fact work.
A Personal Tale
Both Great Britain and New Zealand are welfare states. There’s a lot of talk about how national health care systems don’t work, but actually they work pretty well, in my experience.
When I moved to America, it was somewhat problematic trying to find health insurance. I had really good insurance when I was living in California. And I got ill. My health insurer kept raising the premiums until I couldn’t afford them anymore. So here I was, really ill, and no way of getting my bills covered. That seemed completely unacceptable.
A More Affordable Solution
It’s not that the health insurance we have is cheap, but it’s not expensive either. It’s not more expensive than if you [go through] an employer. It’s actually cheaper than that. It doesn’t cover people who don’t have the money to pay for any kind of insurance. But it could make it easier for somebody to make the decision to go into business, run a label or be an artist.
Health Insurance Is #1
You can get house insurance and that sort of thing. I think even car insurance. It was part of the deal that was struck. But the primary thing I was concerned about was health insurance. Health insurance is really the target, because even if you’re 23 years old and fit as a fiddle you can walk out in the street and get hit by an electric bike or something. And that can run many thousands of dollars. So being able to insure against that seems like the most important thing.
Insure Your Pets
I had a cat in L.A. that got cancer, and it was many thousands of dollars. And the cat died, as well. It was very sad. People are extremely attached to their pets and don’t want to see their pets in pain or dying. Pets are family members. Vets are as expensive as doctors, from my observation.
Many Unique Options and Add-Ons
At some point in the seven-and-a-half year process of trying to get this set up, I would’ve been happy with just providing catastrophic insurance. But the fact this insurance comes with all the bells and whistles is amazing. And I would imagine that, as we go forward and more people start using it, there’ll be more bells and whistles.
Specific Problems Facing Musicians
I wish there were more educational programs for musicians on certain issues, hearing loss in particular. Because by the time you’ve incurred hearing loss, it’s too late. It’s kind of like skin cancer. That burn you got when you were 18 can turn into cancer when you’re 45. It’s the same thing with hearing loss. Standing in front of a Marshall stack when you’re 16 can cause you to not hear when you’re 50.
Carpal tunnel’s another one. Some musicians teach techniques that can avoid it. We don’t have those educational programs right now, but if somebody gets carpal tunnel or wants to get their hearing checked, that’s all part of [our insurance offerings].
There’s a dedicated help line called Ask Evan. Anyone who wants to sign up can call and get their questions answered. The customer service people are up on all the different features. They’re very helpful.
Dare to Compare
Anyone who wants to compare this with what they have, I think it’s more than comparable to anything else that’s out there. In fact, we think it’s better than anything else for the money, and [the sign-up process is] a lot simpler to navigate. There’s more help available, and it’s a simple offering in the sense that you’re not trying to read the fine print for wording that could take you out. If someone has health insurance already, comparing what they have now to what’s in this offering should be simple. And if they don’t, this is a no-brainer, because it’s simple to set up and competitively priced.
The A2IM Insurance App
That’s something that came with the program. After years of finding nothing, to find something that has all these features is really exciting. Technology can be our friend; it can be our enemy. I’m a fan of technology, for the most part. And this is a good example of how technology can make things better. It makes these types of programs more scalable.
A.I. is a big thing everybody’s talking about. A lot of the fears are overblown. I think the music industry is approaching it more intelligently than it did the digital world back in ’97 to ’99.
At the same time, a lot of people are overthinking what’s going to happen. It’s obviously one of the most disruptive and transformative changes that’s ever happened to humanity. And it’s going to take a while to unfold. But it’s exciting if we can work together to make it be a positive rather than a negative.
A New Era for Companies Big and Small
I’m hoping that this’ll be the beginning of a new era in terms of people who are self-employed or have small businesses. And maybe even larger businesses. There’s no reason why a larger business can’t sign up. It’s a perfectly viable option for a larger business. We haven’t targeted larger companies, because they’re set up with their own health insurance. But when it comes time to renew, this might be a competitive option. •