Everybody putting out a record knows the odds are stacked against them. Of course they don't know just how tough those odds are. If they saw even the puny amount of CDs that I get sent for review they'd give up. If they saw how many a Radio Two producer gets they'd tell all their friends to give up as well.
But that's not the whole of the problem. They think they're competing against the other records that came out the same month. What they're really competing for is our attention, which is just too terrifying to think about. And our attention doesn't have to be restricted to what came out this month. Even assuming that we're in the mood to listen to or buy a record that attention is most likely to be occupied by something we already like.
And this a problem that the acts of today have to face which the acts of the 60s and 70s didn't. Unless they're working in new genres such as hip hop it's likely that whatever they do will have already been done first and better by somebody thirty years ago. In fact they've probably been "inspired" by the very record that outshines them. When Joni Mitchell made those first few records nobody had been down those paths before. When Laura Marling sits down to write songs she knows that wherever she goes lots of people have been before and quite a lot of them were pretty good.
Obviously I'm just an unfeeling brute who has been made calloused and cynical by the amount of listening I've had to do over the years. But my attitude to hearing something new is just a more pronounced version of what the listening public feels. They're not just measuring your record against what else is at this week's starting gate. They're measuring it against the riches of pop history, all of which is just a click away.
Maybe the acts should start measuring their records against their own Control Samples while they're making them.