The First Major-Label Recording Artist To Release A Digital Album Was?
Answer: They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants, an American alternative rock band formed in the early 1980s by John Flansburgh and John Linnell, have long been known for embracing new technologies and integrating them into the making, and promotion of, their music. Between 1983 and 2008, for example, they ran a service for fans called Dial-A-Song wherein fans could call a phone number in Brooklyn and hear snippets of songs, demos, jingles, and other sound bites from the band (a service that was revived in 2015). They also used the Internet, via Usenet, long before blogs and social media took off, to post updates for their fans.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that in 1999, They Might Be Giants became the first act from a major label to push out a completely digital album. Their album, Long Tall Weekend, had an exclusive initial release through the digital music service eMusic. Also, unsurprisingly, the fame of the band combined with their willingness to jump into early digital distribution made They Might Be Giants the most downloaded band of 1999.
Image courtesy of They Might Be Giants/eMusic.