Ex-Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy: Why We Don’t Need Record Labels Anymore

Progressive metal drum legend Mike Portnoy recently appeared on the Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz to discuss his work in The Winery Dogs with bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Richie Kotzen. Among other things, Portnoy also reflected on the band’s decision to release their new album independently through their own label called Three Dog Music. He explained (transcript via Blabbermouth):

“Well, this new Winery Dogs album is actually the first time I’ve ever worked without a label, to be honest. ‘Cause everything else I do, most of them are with InsideOut Music. Sons of Apollo, Transatlantic, Liquid Tension [Experiment], the stuff I do with Neal Morse, that’s all with InsideOut. And The Winery Dogs’ first two albums even were with Loud & Proud, who have since folded.”

“So, here we are finding ourselves in a situation, in 2023, where you really need labels less and less. And this new album is my personal first experience working without a label. I think Richie’s [Kotzen] done his solo albums this way and suggested maybe we do The Winery Dogs one this way.”

The Winery Dogs - Mad World (Official Music Video)

Discussing the issue further, Mike reflected on this changing trend in the industry and how with today’s technology and climate musicians are no longer in need of record labels. And not only that — Mike also argued that, these days, labels need the artists and not the other way around. He continued:

“I guess it’s kind of where we’re at. You don’t really need a label to get your music out there. As long as you have a distributor and a publicist, you could do the artwork yourself or the people you work with, and it’s all about social media these days.”

“Most of the labels are relying on us, the artists, to promote their records these days. I’ve seen it happen with labels; I’ve seen it happen with concert promoters. They’re relying on the artists’ social media to get the word out more than they’re doing it themselves.”

The Winery Dogs - Xanadu (Official Music Video)

“So I think that’s kind of where we’re going. It’s kind of refreshing, to be honest. It puts a little more pressure on us to be doing a lot of the legwork, but we reap the benefits from it. We’re no longer at the mercy of a label.”

While discussing the issue, Portnoy also reflected on his work with Dream Theater back in the day and how things were completely different in this regard in the 1980s and the 1990s. He explained:

“When I was starting out with Dream Theater in the ’80s and ’90s, you couldn’t do anything unless you had a record deal. You couldn’t go into a recording studio and make a record and get a video out unless you had a record company.”

“But times have changed so much since then. Now, as long as you have a YouTube account or Instagram account, you could put your own music on to Spotify or iTunes or whatever, you can have total control over your music, which is a good thing, I guess.”

Supergroup The Winery Dogs released their third album, simply titled “III,” on February 4 this year. This comes as the follow-up to their sophomore full-length record “Hot Streak” from 2015.

It’s been a long time since Mike Portnoy has left Dream Theater, the legendary progressive metal band he helped create. The band chose Mike Mangini as his replacement and they have released five albums in this formation so far.

But after a long time of supposed animosity between Portnoy and his old band, two sides have finally set the record straight when the drummer attended Dream Theater’s live show in New York on March 4, 2022. He even got a nod from the band’s frontman James LaBrie and you can check that out in the embedded player below.

MIKE PORTNOY AT Dream Theater show, Beacon Theatre. New York, NY 03/04/2022

In a last year’s interview, Mike Portnoy looked back on this show and getting the chance to hang out with his former bandmate. He said:

“We had been slowly rekindling the relationships over the years. Obviously, John Petrucci and I have made a few albums together at this point — I played on his last solo album, and then he and myself and Jordan [Rudess] and Tony Levin got back together to do a Liquid Tension Experiment album in 2020.”

“So, yeah, John Petrucci and Jordan had been hanging with me a lot through the years, and our families as well. In fact, the first time I played together with Jordan again was on the last ‘Cruise To The Edge’ in 2019; Jordan and I played together on that.

Liquid Tension Experiment Live in LA

“So the relationships had been really, really good and comfortable with those guys. And John Myung lives right down the street from me, so I would see him in town all the time. And his wife is very, very good friends with my wife.

“So there’s three of the guys that I had been on very, very good terms with over the years. And my wife and John Myung’s wife were going to see them at the New York show, and I was, like, ‘You know what? What the hell.’”

“I’m not saying I dreamt like it was my goal; I’m saying I literally would have dreams at night sleeping, where in my dreams I’m going to see Dream Theater and it’s just an awkward thing. So for a long time, I was very nervous about it. Like, how weird would it feel? Would it be uncomfortable?”


Before that moment, LaBrie and Portnoy haven’t seen each other from when the latter left Dream Theater. Looking back at how hanging out with LaBrie went, he said:

“And at the show, James welcomed me from the stage. And I hadn’t spoken to James — as a lot of people know, I hadn’t spoken to him since I left the band — so I got to see him that night after the show. And I went into his dressing room, and within literally 10 seconds, any of that drama or B.S. that had built up through the years, it melted away immediately.”

“And it was all hugs and kisses and ‘love you, bro’ and ‘miss you, bro.’ And it was, like, all that bullshit from the last 11 years was just water under the bridge.”

Photo: Germán Rojas (MIKE PORTNOY @ Teatro ABC (37990257801))


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.