Aaron Lloyd Barr: “It’s Kind of My Job to See What’s Next”
As an experienced talent manager, Aaron Lloyd Barr is accustomed to scouting the horizon to see what’s coming—so he knew when he saw the Beeple drop garner half a million dollars that NFTs were definitely something to keep on his radar. Since then, his hunch that NFTs were a force to be reckoned with has only been further confirmed.
Now, as founder of ATRBUTE and UNSNCTD, an animation production company and creative collective, respectively, Aaron continues to learn about NFTs and the power they hold for digital artists and the greater community. “It’s unlocked so many different things,” he says. “Digital artists can now make money selling fine art and not be beholden to clients, and NFTs have also created thriving communities.”
From Bartering Baseball Cards to Digital Art
Aaron started off buying a few NFTs of his own to learn more about how the industry worked. From there, he learned how to mint, downloaded a wallet, and found his way early on into Bored Ape Yacht Club and bought into that as well, landing himself a front-row seat to IP and community building.
These days, he’s helping artists navigate the space with the knowledge he’s gained, whether that’s assisting folks as they launch on SuperRare or Nifty or as they do their own generative drops. “I don’t want to force anyone into this,” he emphasizes. “I want artists and clients to see this as a great tool they can use. It’s way more interesting when someone’s got an idea and they understand the tech and want to really use it.”
Regardless of the project, he emphasizes the fun and collegiality to be found in this work. “Anything we do to help the space is going to make it better for everyone,” he points out. “I grew up collecting baseball cards and comic books and trading them. I didn’t have money to buy good ones, but I could convince someone to take some or barter with me—this whole trading and having fun thing, it’s always been a part of me, it’s just evolved into me now collecting sculptures, art, and prints.
“I’m super excited about this new tech and where our society goes with it. I missed the dot-com but this rhymes with that, and it’s exciting to be part of this thing where we’re all figuring it out together. Let’s get in the convo and move it forward! Just the fact that I’m able to be here feels like a privilege, and I want to capture that.”
Original Voices and Brands Doing NFTs Well
ATRBUTE states one of its aims is to “champion original voices and support artistic endeavors in an ever evolving age of media and Web3 opportunities.”
When asked about projects that embody this sense of original voice, Aaron gives a nod to Shantell Martin, whose work explores the way she looks at life and encourages others to find themselves in their own work. He describes her work as “thoughtful, heady, and performative; in many ways, her performing and creating her work is part of the work.” He also calls out Tristan Eaton, who creates colorful collages and tells stories that way.
While these artists are doing very different types of work, NFTs have allowed both of them to reach a wider audience than before. “The best artists I work with are great at taking care of their collectors and fans, and NFTs can be a great resource for that,” Aaron says.
It’s also worth noting that the pseudonymous nature of the space allows some artists who may not have been as successful in other spheres to push forward. For example, Deadfellaz was in the space for the first six months of her project before she revealed her identity. “I also heard the artist for the Gutter Cat Gang is a woman,” Aaron says. “They haven’t doxxed themselves, but I think staying anonymous may have helped make this a more successful project.”
“If You’ve Got a Membership Model, You Should Be Thinking About NFTs”
Aaron feels we’re past the moment of everyone feeling like they have to drop an NFT. When clients come to him curious about getting involved, his first question is: Why? If that can be clearly articulated, he moves on to deeper exploratory questions. Perhaps the client doesn’t need to drop an NFT but can support NFTs in other ways, whether that’s buying them or helping amplify other artists or becoming involved in a community.
“There has to be a utility behind it, where you’re bringing fans of the brand together to talk to each other or hang out or create some sort of membership,” Aaron states. “Brands will start using this to back a lot of membership clubs in the future.”
He admires the work that Adidas and Coachella have done to tie existing communities and brand recognition to NFT projects and feels that big brands like Starbucks would benefit from doing the same. “If you’ve got members paying monthly, you should be thinking about how to bring that onto the chain and show the value of that membership.”
Looking Ahead: IRL NFTs and the Normalization of Web3
As Aaron continues to look ahead to the future, he sees NFTs and Web3 becoming more commonplace. “We don’t say Web2 anymore, for example,” he points out. “We just say Instagram and Facebook. I’m excited about the possibility that Web3 won’t be seen as ‘different’ in the future. I’m also interested in the potential of buying more things on the chain; say a pharma company wants an image of someone smiling and they go to the chain and then everyone can see who has that image, and the artist gets paid directly.”
And, while NFTs might be built, buzzed about, and sold in primarily digital spaces, Aaron believes bringing art to physical spaces is still important. A product like the LAGO frame, which allows digital art to be displayed IRL, fosters connection and a deepened sense of community. “Look at the Bored Ape Yacht Club meetup,” Aaron says. “It’s not necessarily in that it doesn’t drive the value of the NFT itself, but it’s important to see and feel things IRL because that’s where we live.”