Felice LaZae speaks with music industry vet and web3 champion Stephanie Guerrero about her latest album Prologue—which she released as a Dolby Atmos visual album with a custom token-gated Tellie experience. The album is cued up to be part of Polygon's upcoming creative and music initiatives, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. The below conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Stephanie Guerrero: Let's start with an intro. How would you describe your art and music to someone who knows nothing about you?
Felice LaZae: I am a producer, singer, and songwriter who’s been working in the music industry for over 10 years. In that time I’ve done everything from audio engineering to singing, and I’ve performed everywhere from the Lincoln Center to Art Basel to Paris Fashion Week. My music has also been featured on a bunch of different TV shows, and in some films as well.
I also have a production company called Sweet Spot Studios, and that's where I do a lot of different projects—from podcast production to music production to content production. I also work with a Web3 entertainment studio called Burble. We just did a project that we released for the J Dilla Legacy Collection, which is curated by his mother. So, I just do a lot of different things in Web3 and in the traditional music industry space, including this interactive Dolby Atmos visual album that I just released, called Prologue.
When I stumbled into the Web3 space, I immediately realized it was a great space for me. The cool thing about being an independent artist is that I have control over my music and I'm able to create things on my own terms—and this approach is echoed in the Web3 space.
Releasing Prologue, your interactive album, must have felt completely different from other releases you've put out there before.
Yeah, Web3 totally flips the release recipe on its head in terms of what’s possible. Normally, the process is to record an album or a single or an EP, then mix it and do all the production, and then figure out a rollout plan involving streaming platforms and putting out videos on YouTube and such. The independent artist track feels pretty much the same as the major artist track, and when I say "major artist," I just mean an artist that's signed to a label. It's all the same.
But with a Web3 release, I can do things differently. I like to ask, “How do I make this matter to my audience and to consumers in a way that goes beyond just listening to it on a streaming platform?” My whole thing is, if I'm going to do a Web3-powered release, how do I make it matter? There are obviously current collectors who are Web3-native, but how do I get people who aren't yet into Web3 to be interested?
My background is in audio engineering, so I have a lot of mentors and close friends who are incredible mixing engineers. A few of them are some of the premier Dolby Atmos mixers in the industry right now: Jean-Marie Horvat, Dave Way, and Brendan Duffey. For people that don't know what Dolby Atmos is, you've probably experienced it in theaters. It’s basically a surround sound experience on steroids, with more speakers involved so the mix feels more immersive.
So, I was talking to a few of my audio engineer friends after I released Prologue in stereo, and they were like, "You should do a Dolby Atmos mix of this.” I thought, "Wow, it would be really cool to do an immersive mix of this.” And since that's another new technology, I decided to do two cutting-edge things at the same time—mixing Web3 with Dolby Atmos all in one visual album. And we did this—filming, Dolby Atmos mixing, and video editing—all in a 30-day timeframe.
"Within 30 days, I brought a team together to film a visual album, mix it in Dolby Atmos, and create a Web3 gamified experience—something else that had never been done before."
At the very end of production when we were rendering, we were having a lot of technical issues. I had four different mixers working on five different songs for this project. As I was working with Dave Way on rendering the Dolby Atmos mixes to the video, I looked at him and I said, "Why is this so hard?" He said, "Because nobody's done it before." I was like, "Wait, what are you talking about?" It turns out that a visual album in Dolby Atmos had not been done this way before. So, within 30 days, I brought a team together to film a visual album, mix it in Dolby Atmos, and create a Web3 gamified experience—something else that had never been done before.
All in all, it was an intense 30 days. I also decided to make the album interactive, which added another layer of complexity. The visuals all have hidden clues in them that collectors will be prompted to find. The best way to do this was through tokenization. Obviously, I planned it that way on purpose, because I was like, "I'm going to do a Web3 release. Let me figure out how to use tokenization in a way that matters to consumers."
The whole approach to this, even with the Dolby Atmos application, was: how do I make it matter? Because that's also an issue right now. On Apple Music, you're seeing a lot of Dolby Atmos spatial audio mixes coming out, but a lot of mixers—even the engineers who are doing these projects—scoff at them, like, "What's the importance of doing that? What's the point? It's just a novelty." My hope in all of this was to make Web3 and Dolby Atmos not a novelty, but something that mattered to the consumer; something that would make them want to view and listen to this album in this new way.
It's interesting that you decided to be the first person to release a Web3-powered Dolby Atmos visual album, without realizing that in general, nobody had created a visual album with Dolby Atmos yet. You're marrying all of these boundary-pushing technologies to create a super-baby of what is a dream drop. Do you feel that token gating the album expanded your creativity, too?
Yes. Like I was saying, I feel like the challenge of figuring out how to make the token gating matter is what pushed me to integrate Dolby Atmos into the experience as well. It's really exciting to me, because as I mentioned, this whole process happened in 30 days. I don't know how we did it in 30 days, to be honest. I made the songs fit a narrative in a murder mystery story, and then planned a shoot, which we shot in one day. Part of what inspired this was that I have a partnership with Blackmagic, who supplied the Pocket Cinema 4k cameras that we filmed it on. That was part of what also inspired me to say, "Let's do this as a visual album." The whole time, even filming this, the token gating was all in my mind, because I didn't create this visual album first and then say, "Let me token gate it." I created this visual album as a result of the plan to token gate it.
Why did you choose to make Tellie part of this experience?
Tellie was the only option that I knew of that would let me easily token gate these pages. And overall, I've been trying to think about how to use Tellie ever since I got into the beta program. It's been a whole process of going, "What could I create that would utilize this technology?"
It’s really cool that Tellie makes it so easy for a creator to integrate Web3 tools into their work, without needing to have a developer do it for you. I'm an independent artist, so I thrive on DIY. Even if I have other people helping me, still, the fact that I didn't need to hire a developer to do that aspect of it is huge. Don’t get me wrong, I think developers are awesome—but I just love that I can easily do this on my own, despite it being very complex.
Basically, I’m using Typeform to create a kind of puzzle experience. They're essentially quizzes that people need to answer, embedded in the Tellie pages. When a listener answers all of the puzzle questions correctly, they get access to a POAP that will unlock the next page. In addition, there are some other POAPs that they'll get for answering bonus questions. And there’s a master achievement token for passing all of the levels which I created using Tellie Drops on Polygon. There are five levels total, meaning there are five token-gated Tellie pages. And I can always add more in the future, if I decide I want to.
Tellie is perfectly set up for me to create this experience. I literally was just so excited that POAPs could be easily integrated into my Tellie pages. There were so many elements to creating this experience, but that's why I liked Tellie—it just made everything easy to set up and integrate together.
You said you were going to build on this in the future. Do you think that means this album will be token gated forever, or do you plan on opening it up more, down the line?
You know what? The experience is going to be token gated forever.
With the video itself, I am going to do a mainstream streaming release of the visual album. So people will see that soon on regular streaming platforms. But that doesn't take away from the tokenized experience. I don't think that artists should completely token gate their music. Personally, I think that we should have levels of the experience of our music. Platforms like Apple Music and Spotify will probably never go away, they’re just going to evolve. I think that they'll all eventually figure out how to incorporate tokenization into their platforms in some way.
But while streaming platforms catch up to Web3 technology, I'm not going to withhold my releases from the general public. When I release this visual album on streaming platforms in Dolby Atmos, my hope is that my audience will go, "Ooh, there's a whole experience behind this visual album? Now I want to go deeper." That's what I want to do: create multiple levels to the experience of my music and my visuals and Web3 tech gives me the tools to do that.
Will people be able to collect the NFT forever, or will there be a finite number of editions so that only a certain number of people get access to the game?
Right now, I’m releasing 100 of what I'm calling the “first edition” round of this experience. Once that sells out, then I'll release a second round. I think people get caught up in the idea of selling out, and I didn't want to pressure myself by releasing a 2,000-piece collection, and risk having it just sit there and not sell.
I like doing it in stages, because then people can actually say, "I experienced it as a first-edition round.” And there will be changes between the first and second editions, because as people go through the experience and give me feedback, I will evolve things. And I welcome feedback from anyone. I created a Common Ground community, which is a Web3-native platform where people can give me feedback and talk about the experience with each other.
I told people right off the bat, "This is the genesis release of this. This is the first time. So, thank you. Please give me some grace if there are little hiccups and stuff, because you're literally the first to experience this."
This is such a well-thought-out release. I just want to congratulate you on that, because you’re doing so many new things here. Do you have any advice to share based on what you’ve learned through this project?
I think that the biggest thing that I'm still learning through this process is that we're working with technology that is so new that even the "experts" are still learning as we go. It's all unfolding as we speak. So, we have to be patient with each other.
Also, be patient with yourself. Everybody's on the same playing field here. If you have a really unique idea that you think is worth pursuing, be patient with yourself, because you're literally creating with no template. For me, I thought I had a template—I thought a Dolby Atmos visual album was already a thing—but it turns out there was no template for that.
So if you're also doing something that has no template—and pretty much that's everything artists in Web3 are doing right now—then really let yourself think outside the box. Let your mind go crazy, and let your imagination take you everywhere. But also be really patient and kind to yourself. There were times while working on this project when I got frustrated, especially over the whole challenge with the Dolby Atmos render workflow. I was pulling my hair out because I couldn't figure out how to do it by myself. Then when I sat down with a Grammy award-winning engineer who was also being challenged by it, I realized, "Oh, wait a minute, this is hard because nobody's done it like this before. This workflow doesn’t even exist. We’re creating an entirely new application and workflow for this technology."
So, just be kind to yourself. Drink lots of water, and get more sleep than I did while I was doing this. I was thinking about making this album for months, but the process of creating it poured out in a 30-day sprint that brought all of the elements together to create a finished product. While I’m glad I did it, I really should have given myself more rest. So give yourself rest, give yourself grace, and be kind to yourself.
Explore Prologue and connect with Felice LaZae via her Tellie Site: felicelazae.xyz