The influential 4AD label was started in 1980 by music enthusiasts Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent with financial help from Beggars Banquet, whose record store chain the pair worked for. Originally called Axis, they released an initial series of four 7" singles before finding out that the name Axis was already being used by another label. They quickly came up with a new name, 4AD, inspired by typography on a flyer announcing their releases. Under Ivo Watts-Russell's guidance, drawing influence from other UK indie labels such as Beggars Banquet, Postcard Records and Factory, 4AD quickly established a unique identity thanks to both the cover designs of Vaughan Oliver/v23 and the label's unique numbering system.
In 1992, 4AD entered a highly publicized Stateside distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records, opening offices in New York headed up by Robin Hurley. The label was largely run from California for most of the decade after Ivo Watts-Russell moved to Los Angeles in the mid-90s. In November 1999 it was announced that Martin Mills had taken over as chairman and relocated its HQ to London.
Decoding their unique numbering system reveals various formats like mail-order only releases (4AD), LPs (CAD), MP3 downloads (EAD), posters (FAD), videos (VAD) and more. The numeric portion of their catalog numbers