Record labels can mean everything in the indie rock world. Today, we’re counting down the 40 greatest indie labels of all time.

Before alternative rock fans know anything about a band, or even hear an artist’s music, they can begin to understand something about the act from the independent label to which they’ve signed. It might indicate a scene (Dischord in Washington, D.C., Sub Pop in Seattle) or a sound (Bloodshot and alt-country, Epitaph and punk), and it certainly lends credibility, whether the guy who signs the band is Jello Biafra or Dave Matthews.

An indie label is an identity – perhaps not as much today as it was in the early days of hardcore – but there’s still something special about being associated with a particular imprint, its founders, its roster and its history. Being recognized with a certain independent record company is almost like a recommendation: “If you love our other artists, you also might enjoy this.” It’s rarely the same with the majors.

We’re paying tribute to alternative rock’s greatest indie labels – old and new, active and defunct, with legacies firmly in the past or still evolving. Judged by the breadth, depth and importance of their rosters, the labels also got credit for their influence, style and overall cool factor. While humming Nick Lowe’s “I Love My Label,” let’s start the countdown.

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