Justin Ashar is a Canadian-born artist of Indian descent who gained viral exposure on Facebook in 2016 and in 2018 he went on to create Pug Life Records, experimental management, record label, video production, and marketing platform to develop new artists. Justin is partnered with Vydia, a distribution site that Kanye West works with, in order to provide his talent with more opportunities. Justin saw a lot of talent across the world, but he found many of these artists never had a platform to put out their music. Justin’s concept was to create an artistic collective and community to showcase how when artists work together, they can accomplish big things. He signed Shobhit Banwait, a legendary tabla player from Toronto, Canada, to his label shortly afterward. Justin then transformed from an artist to an executive producer.
By mid-2017, BINA Musical Stores, known worldwide for their Indian harmoniums, sponsored Justin and designed him a custom instrument for his future projects. 2 years later Pug Life Records partnered up with Speed Records, an Indian music label, to release an official tabla remix to the Doorbeen’s viral hit “Lamberghini.” The music video featured Shobhit Banwait and was uploaded to Speed Records’ YouTube channel with 25-million subscribers. The idea of the concept started catching on, and more artists started joining the label from across the world. The story behind the name of the record label is something that is near and dear to his heart. Justin got his first dog when he was attending the University of Colorado at Boulder – a pug named Babu – but he had to give him up once he graduated due to his unsteady career at the time.
After developing Pug Life Records and having a stable life in the United States with a green card, Justin reached out to the woman he gave his dog to and was able to reunite with Babu after 7 years of being apart. Justin’s story with Babu began as a sad one but ended as a happy reunion that symbolizes the true gift of hard work. Justin and Pug Life Records have changed the music scene for artists who were unable to find platforms to promote their music. What Justin has done makes him and his company strikingly different by providing artists with this platform and his efforts have been incredibly influential. We can’t wait to see what 2021 has in store for Justin Ashar.
How has COVID-19 changes the way the music industry functions? COVID-19 has been devastating for the music industry in many ways. Artists cannot perform live for their audiences, and they haven’t been able to generate income in normal ways. With the pandemic, there has been a fall in discretionary spending from all consumers, so digital sales have also taken a hit. I have been very transparent with my artists that the music industry has and will remain changed for many years to come. COVID-19 was a catalyst to shift even further into a digital realm.
Tell me how Pug Life Records was founded! Pug Life Records was started in 2018 and was inspired by pure experimentation. The original idea was to help artists that didn’t have direction with their careers in the music industry. Firstly, we provided support by providing distribution to all digital streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music. From there, it was developing relationships with the artists themselves and trying out different ways to spark new viral projects. It’s tough to be an artist with no real team. I wanted to step in and showcase that when we all work together, we can actually make big things happen.
What has 2020 taught you? One thing 2020 taught me was if I wanted to stay motivated, I would require something to look forward to. This was in the form of an ambitious achievement, a fitness goal, or even a fun activity planned for the future. I would notice myself getting sluggish when my goals started tapering off and the pandemic really pushed me down. My motivation hit all-time lows at certain points in 2020, but I attacked this by recalibrating and planting new seeds for future growth.
What advice do you have for emerging artists just getting into the industry? I would tell any emerging artist to keep on creating. Society is so focused on social media numbers, likes, and comments, it feels like a daunting task to even attempt to be an artist anymore. There is no magic formula for success, no matter what anybody claims. What works for one artist will not work for another. The ability to stay open-minded and experimental will always outlast chasing the latest trend.
Tell us about some of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on with Pug Life Records? As a record executive with Pug Life Records, one of my most satisfying career highlights was creating a remix with one of my artists, Shobhit Banwait, for “Lamberghini” by the Doorbeen featuring Ragini. The original song was one of the biggest hits in India in 2018 with over 400-million views on YouTube. I was able to organize a music video in Canada with a rented white Lamborghini and had the finished video distributed in India on the Speed Records® YouTube channel with a whopping 31.5-million subscribers. Although this was a major win for the team, it was also one of the greatest obstacles. I did this all from the United States without having met the artist or video production team face-to-face. This is why I find the internet to be so powerful; the unthinkable can be accomplished with the right motivation.
Pug Life Records is part of a wider network under the Pug Life Agency which encompasses music, comedy, fitness, and even the food industry. Through Pug Life Comedy, my artist, Baffmasta, collaborated with will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas in their music video “VIDA LOCA” featuring Nicky Jam and Tyga. Baffmasta was also invited to perform with them for the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards. For fitness, through Pug Life Athletics, I worked with Reebok for the 10th anniversary of their Nano X cross-training shoe.
What are your goals for 2021? For 2021, I plan on expanding the Pug Life Agency by increasing our community with more artists, entertainers, athletes, social media influencers, and more!
The definition of Contrast is ‘to be strikingly different.’ What makes you strikingly different? In 2011, I faced immigration issues in the United States, and I was forced to give up my pug dog, Babu. I hustled my way up working on oil rigs in the Arctic Circle and finally getting a green card. After 7-years of pure hard work, I was able to reunite with Babu, and I started Pug Life Records as my way of giving back to struggling artists. I understand what it’s like to feel trapped like there’s no way out.