Whether he's serious or simply negotiating in public, Toby Keith surprised attendees at last week's Country Radio Seminar in Nashville by stating that he might leave DreamWorks Records, with whom he's

Whether he's serious or simply negotiating in public, Toby Keith surprised attendees at last week's Country Radio Seminar in Nashville by stating that he might leave DreamWorks Records, with whom he's enjoyed his greatest success. During a Q&A, Keith revealed that he may go elsewhere or even start his own label when his DreamWorks contract expires.

Keith started his career at Universal, and was bounced to several different imprints at the company before leaving for DreamWorks, where he became a superstar. Last year, DreamWorks merged with Universal, putting Keith back under the label group where he started. Since the merger, he said, it's back to "all that corporate bullsh*t ... The other day I had my first A&R meeting in 20 million albums."

But, he said, "it's different this time, because the first time I didn't have any power. Now I'm a brand name ... so there's a lot more compromising on their part."

Looking toward the future, Keith said he will be "refocusing my energies on other areas." Getting his own label, he said, has been "talked about," including the possibility of an imprint under the Universal Music Group umbrella.

In addition to his upcoming DreamWorks album, "Honkytonk University," due this spring, Keith said he has one album left on his contract and that he'll begin recording it in July.

Asked at a later panel about Keith's comments, UMG Nashville co-chairman Luke Lewis said Keith "might go somewhere else or [he] might start a record company. To that I say, 'Good luck.' The track record of artists running record labels is not that good."

Keith also said he is planning to start a "big time" publishing company, and hopes to sign 10-15 writers. Additionally, he revealed he will perform live via satellite from Baghdad for the Academy of Country Music Awards telecast, set for May 17.

Keith will play shows tonight (March 11) in Louisville and tomorrow in Terre Haute, Ind., and has scattered U.S. dates booked through early October.