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creative:impact - A forever balancing act!

Marissa Conniff
Marissa Conniff
Marissa Conniff

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


Marissa Conniff is a singer/songwriter based out of Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Marissa’s love for singing began earlier than she can remember. One of her earliest memories is being younger than four years old and singing to cassette tapes in her living room. At age 6, she saw “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Fox Theatre in Detroit and knew she wanted to be on stage. Soon after, Marissa joined a community theatre in Southgate, Michigan, and a choir at her elementary school, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in Wyandotte. She also took piano lessons with Mrs. Higgins, who lived in Huron, and charged $5 for half-hour lessons. When Marissa was 13, she joined a youth choir in Trenton. The choir awarded her a scholarship for music lessons, and she began taking guitar lessons at Southland Mall.

She was heavily involved in Woodhaven High School’s Theatre program, where she performed in many plays and musicals, including the Michigan International Forensic Association’s annual theatre competition, where she won “Best Actress” for her role as Clara in Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever.”

In college, Marissa attended Eastern Michigan University, majoring in Arts Management and minoring in Marketing and Theatre. Marissa performed in mainstage and block box shows and also became the first Social Media Manager for EMU Theatre.

After college, Marissa began to write and perform original music in Southeast Michigan. She was a founding member of Neighborhood Theatre Group and produced an original EP found on Soundcloud.

Marissa’s momentum with music slowed down as her marketing career became a focus while she started her family. She started her own business in 2020 called Upward Anthems, which provides social media and marketing services to artists and small businesses.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, Marissa began to focus on music once again. She began taking voice lessons with VanAlstine Voice, leading to more confidence in her art. At this time, Facebook launched an experimental app called Collab which allowed musicians worldwide to collaborate on short song clips. Marissa gained popularity on the app and was a featured artist on their blog, Instagram page, and advertisements.

The experience with the Collab app inspired Marissa to become more knowledgeable about audio engineering, and she began taking classes at Washtenaw Community College. Now, Marissa had the skills to properly record her vocals at home, allowing her to apply for more opportunities.

In September 2022, Marissa submitted an audition for the Motown Museum’s annual singing competition, Amplify the Sound of Detroit. Marissa was selected as a top 10 finalist and underwent a 6-month long artist development program with world-class artists such as Beth Griffith-Manley, Curtiss Boone, Kern Brantley, and Tristan Fisher. She was given coaching on every aspect of her artistry, including branding, styling, movement, vocals, performance, and more.

On March 15, 2023, Marissa performed for the first time in 5 years at the Gem Theatre in Downtown Detroit for the competition. She sang “I Just Want to Celebrate” by Rare Earth and was the first performer to bring a rock and roll song to the competition. The judges said Marissa had “incredible energy” and “did something special” by making the audience love a song from a different genre. Since then, Marissa has performed at the Motown Museum for additional events, such as Founder’s Day (and more to come)!

After the competition, Marissa started a band called The Starter Packs - a genre-defying group of local musicians who perform oldies and originals. The Starter Packs have performed at 2 West, Ziggy’s, and the YpsiArboroo Festival.

Currently, Marissa is enjoying working as an artist and a marketing professional. She enjoys working with clients and performing on stage. In addition to performing with The Starter Packs, she is working on another EP and auditioning for opportunities throughout the area.

Marissa lives at home with her loving husband, their joyous son, and their energetic dog, Yogi.


Marissa Coniff Official Site

Marissa Coniff Original Music

Marissa Coniff Upcoming Performances

Marissa Coniff on Facebook

Marissa Coniff on Instagram

Marissa Coniff on YouTube


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your creative:impact host. Thanks for tuning in on Tuesdays for the show--this WEMU segment that explores Washtenaw County's artists and creative industries and the people and businesses who make our community a great place for all to create, live, learn, play and visit. What was your dream? You know, the one you always thought you'd get to eventually? Marissa Conniff always wanted to be a singer. And she was....until life kept getting in the way. Like many of us, she put singing to the side. But unlike many of us, her story has a happy ending. Marissa, welcome to creative:impact.

Marissa Conniff: Thank you, Deb. How are you?

Deb Polich: I'm good. I'm glad you're here. Thanks for joining us. So, you know, I hear this story from so many people. Tell us about you and how music was and then wasn't part of your world for a while.

Marissa Coniff and Deb Polich at the WEMU studio.
Mat Hopson
89.1 WEMU
Marissa Coniff and Deb Polich at the WEMU studio.

Marissa Conniff: When I was younger, I sang all the time. And I was in plays and shows and studied theater in college. After college, I did a lot of performing around the area: original music and guitar. And then, it was time to start my family. And even during that time, I was really focused on a marketing career, even before having a family.

Deb Polich: And you have your own company.

Marissa Conniff: Correct. Yes, I have my own marketing company, and I do that full-time. And then I do singing in addition to that. So, I get the flexibility for that.

Deb Polich: So, you had a child. Other things happened. And your singing career was, let's just say, sort of set aside.

Marissa Conniff: Child and COVID. So, right when he was ready--

Deb Polich: There was that COVID thing.

Marissa Conniff: Yeah. Once he was like old enough for me to go out there and do shows again, COVID happened, and it really came to a screeching halt.

Deb Polich: And so, a screeching halt. And then, here we are--three plus years since COVID kicked in. And how did youget back to it? So many people don't do this. So many people don't have the courage to go back and say, "This is important to me."

Marissa Conniff: It kind of really started when I started taking audio engineering classes at Washtenaw Community College, and I did that because I always felt there were opportunities missing for me because I didn't properly know how to record myself or set up a mic myself. So, once I kind of gained that power, then I started having the ability to say yes to things, to audition for things. And that's kind of what led me to here and now.

Deb Polich: And balancing family and work and all of that. You found the time?

Marissa Conniff: Yes. You know, being a freelance marketer is what has really helped me make time for that. So, during the day, I'll be making social media posts for my clients. And then, I'll eat lunch. And then I'll work on the songs that I need to perform at my next gig. So, usually half of my day is spent singing and then half of my day is spent running my business.

Deb Polich: So, I have to ask though. Was there a time, a moment, a thing that said, "Okay, I have to have this in my life?"

Marissa Conniff: That's always been the case for me. You know, even though I took a break from performing, I never took a break from singing. And even during COVID, I was taking voice lessons and working on that end of things, so that, you know, when I was ready to come back out, I was really ready for it.

Marissa Conniff
Marissa Conniff
Marissa Conniff

Deb Polich: And with that, so always being connected to it, but getting back out into public and performing is is different. Many of us do, you know, whatever that art form is, you know, in our privacy of our own home. So, to actually say, "Okay, I'm going to try." I mean, it's hard for anybody to go into this field, you know, to try to make it in music. So, where's your drive come from?

Marissa Conniff: My drive really just comes from this need to express myself and to kind of feel larger than life at moments. When I sing, I feel kind of otherworldly, if you will. And it's going to come out one way or another, whether I'm singing after my lunch break or if I'm on stage doing it. So, I really needed that outlet.

Deb Polich: And how much does an audience play in that?

Marissa Conniff: A lot. That energy getting back from the audience, the smiles, the people dancing, that is really what kind of fuels you to keep going.

Deb Polich: It's kind of a cycle. You get from them. They get from you. And it just continues and builds.

Marissa Conniff: Exactly.

Deb Polich: Interesting. This is creative:impact on WEMU. And I'm talking with Marissa Conniff, who, after a little bit of a hiatus, reconnected with her singer within. So, I remember getting a notice from you that you had entered a singing competition. It wasn't just any singing competition. Tell us about it.

Marissa Conniff: So, after I studied audio engineering at Washtenaw, that's when I decided to submit an audition video for the Motown Museum's Amplify the Sound of Detroit singing competition.

Deb Polich: So, amplify that? What was the name of it?

Marissa Conniff: Amplify the Sound of Detroit.

Deb Polich: And at Motown.

Marissa Conniff: Yes, at the Motown Museum.

Deb Polich: Not a small name. I mean, talk about, you know, chewing up something that is big. I mean, Motown is in everyone's mind in this community, in this region. Huge! So, that was kind of gutsy.

Marissa Conniff: Yes, I told myself I'll audition this year, and if I don't get in, I'm just going to keep auditioning. Eventually, they're going to have to say yes. And they said yes the first time I sent in a video. So, that was so exciting. I'll never forget that night when I got the email saying I was in the top ten.

Deb Polich: How cool! So, how did you prepare for the competition?

Marissa Conniff: I did a lot of work. It was a lot of work. I practiced every day, multiple times a day, and I did do usually weekly sessions at the museum where they would invite different artists to come in and give us different types of coaching.

Deb Polich: So, you were at Motown doing the coaching?

Marissa Coniff: Correct. Yeah.

Deb Polich: Okay. And were there people we would recognize that were part of it?

Marissa Conniff: One of the people I was most excited to work with was someone named Tristan Andrews, and he has been on America's Best Dance Crew and on MTV. And I totally remember his dance crew and watching him. He was a Made coach on MTV, and there are just a lot of people who really, I don't think, are, like, household names, but they have these strong careers in music. And in a way, that was more inspiring because they were very relatable and it was like, "Wow, I can do this. I can make a career out of this."

Marissa Conniff being coached by Tristan Fisher at the Motown singing competition.
Marissa Conniff
Marissa had the amazing opportunity to train with world-class artists, such as Beth Griffith-Manley, Curtiss Boone, Kern Brantley, and Tristan Fisher. Marissa trained for six months with vocal lessons, performance coaching, styling, and artist development workshops.

Deb Polich: And you're then surrounded by Motown. Like, are you in Studio B, or is that where you're working?

Marissa Conniff: They did interview us in in the studio, which was amazing, but we really were in the Hitsville next building.

Deb Polich: Okay.

Marissa Conniff: There's this whole hub for developing new artists, and they host all sorts of classes and workshops and things like that for artists to develop and kind of continue the Motown legacy.

Deb Polich: Okay. And so, tell us about the competition. What was that day/evening like?

Marissa Conniff: It was one of the best days ever. My husband even said---

Deb Polich: She says with a huge smile on her face.

Marissa Conniff: He was like, "Okay, so our wedding was cool. Our son being born was cool. And, like, this was the next coolest thing that happened." So, yeah, it was a sold-out show at the Gem Theatre, and I was the first person to ever do a rock and roll song at the competition.

Deb Polich: What did you sing?

Marissa Conniff: I sang "I Just Want to Celebrate" by Rare Earth.

(fast forward to 33:18 for Marissa's performance)

Deb Polich: Okay. That was a Motown group.

Marissa Conniff: Yes. Yeah.

Deb Polich: I had a friend whose mom was connected to them.

Marissa Conniff: Awesome. Yeah. Most people don't realize that that was a Motown song, and I didn't realize that either. So, once they told me that that was an option, I was like, "I have to do that song."

Deb Polich: So, great response to that. And you did it. You didn't win, but that hasn't dissuaded you at all.

Marissa Conniff: No, I told myself that, no matter what the judges say, which they said great things--

Deb Polich: Oh sure.

Marissa Conniff: But I didn't win. And I told myself that no matter what happened, what's most important is how I felt about the show. That was the real indicator of success. How did I feel that I did? And when I walked off stage, I actually just, like, broke down crying because it was like everything I wanted it to be. Everything went exactly how it was supposed to go. I was, like, totally in the zone. My son was sitting front row. It was just the most amazing feeling ever.

On March 15, 2023, Marissa performed at the historic Gem Theatre in Downtown Detroit for a sold-out performance.
Marissa Conniff
On March 15, 2023, Marissa performed at the historic Gem Theatre in Downtown Detroit for a sold-out performance.

Deb Polich: Such an experience. And now you're playing gigs around the area, right?

Marissa Conniff: Yeah. And the Motown Museum has asked me to come back to do a couple of shows with them, which is really exciting.

Deb Polich: Sure.

Marissa Conniff: Yes. And I also started a band. We're called The Starter Packs, and we play some oldies and originals, and I do some solo gigs as well.

The Starter Packs
Marissa Conniff
The Starter Packs

Deb Polich: How cool! So, what would you tell anybody, you know, whose passion sitting on a shelf somewhere to how to get back in the game?

Marissa Conniff: I would say it's never too late. Don't tell yourself, "Oh, it's been too long. I can't do it." That shouldn't be what holds you back. You know, time and money: those are real things that can prevent people from doing what they want to do. But if it's a belief within yourself that you're not good enough or that you don't have enough experience or it's been too long, you really need to shut that down and get back out there. Because, actually, the gal who placed second and is, like, I'm a huge fan of hers, she's from the competition, she says she hadn't been on stage in seven years.

Deb Polich: Oh, wow!

Marissa Conniff: So, that told me I was like, "Okay, this happens to people." And, you know, you just got to get back out there.

Deb Polich and Marissa Conniff at the WEMU studio.
Mat Hopson
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich and Marissa Conniff at the WEMU studio.

Deb Polich: Wow! Marissa, thanks for sharing this inspiration. Really, what a great story. And we wish you the best of luck in all that you do and how you're balancing it all. So, thanks so much for being on the show.

Marissa Conniff: Thank you, Deb.

Deb Polich: That's Marissa Conniff. You can find out more about her, her Motown adventure, see some videos and her current gigs with her band, The Starter Packs, at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer, and we invite you to join us every Tuesday to meet the people who make Washtenaw creative. This is 89-1 WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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