A trip to the land of country music was right around the corner for one local musician. Steff Koeppen, winner of the 2018 Passport to Nashville songwriting competition, recently came back from the once in a lifetime trip, experiencing things only Music City, U.S.A. could offer.
Koeppen started her songwriting journey by taking music lessons as a young child. Her father, a songwriter himself, inspired her initial interest in music. After learning to play piano at 8 years old, Koeppen sang at talent shows throughout elementary school and continued her passion for songwriting and singing up until the present.
She now fronts the pop band Steff and The Articles, and has toured across the U.S. and Mexico.
The Passport to Nashville contest is a resource here in Tucson created by Virginia Cannon and sponsored by the Allegro School of Music. This contest is for artists of all ages to compete in a songwriting competition in front of a panel of judges and to expand their songwriting and performing ability.
The competition is done blindly by judges who only hear the song as it is being performed. Judges are unaware of how old the artist is, who the artist is, and whether they are male or female.
Koeppen joined the contest with a bright outlook and hope for her music.
“I threw my songs out there and hopefully, crossed my fingers, I really didn’t know what to expect,” Koeppen said.
Koeppen won this year’s grand prize with a performance of her song “Corner of the World.” In addition, she won a judge’s award from Bobby Rymer, a music publisher with Writer’s Den music group.
“I just look for somebody that can tell a story that I’ve already heard maybe a thousand different ways, but tell it in a unique way, whether that’s musically, lyrically or hopefully both,” Rymer said.
While on her trip in Nashville, Koeppen experienced the most popular tourist spots, but with the help of Cannon, got to explore what goes on behind the scenes and meet artists, managers and producers from the music industry. The Nashville trip also included backstage access to the Grammy-winning band The Time Jumpers’ show, where she met band members Vince Gill, Joe Spivey, and award-winning fiddle and guitar player Paul Franklin.
“They (Koeppen and her boyfriend Freddy Parish) never in their wildest dreams thought they would be hanging out backstage with Vince Gill,” Cannon said.
Another highlight of Koeppen’s trip was a private tour of the Ryman Auditorium, a Nashville staple best known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Other features of the trip were dinner with hit songwriter and music producer David Malloy, a personal tour through Printer’s Alley, a Bluebird Café visit, and private meetings with Passport to Nashville judge Rymer.
During their one-on-one time, Rymer told her a crucial piece of advice: The only mistake in the music industry is to quit making music.
Acquiring insight from many Nashville artists and producers was one of the biggest highlights of the trip for Koeppen.
“They all sort of gave me new perspective…both in regard to the business side of things, how to approach songwriting and how to get your songs to the right people,” Koeppen said.
During the Nashville trip, it surprised Koeppen to receive support from the musicians and producers who normally work with major stars. They sat down, talked and worked with her, an artist who is just launching her career.
“People in Nashville really want to help you,” Koeppen said. “That was a relief.”
The main thing Koeppen took away from this trip is a more focused vision on her music.
“Just being more sure about what I want to do so I can take advantage of the people that I meet,” Koeppen said. “It inspired me to really think about the lyrics a lot more closely.”
Briannon Wilfong is a University of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.