I've certainly enjoyed reading this discussion. As much as Toddy and Tommyland may think they're disagreeing with each other, from my perspective, you're both agreeing with each other more often than not.
I've met lazy A&R guys that don't really know what's going on anymore. And these are guys who have spotted many number one artists in the UK in the past, right up until the early 2000's.
Well, most A&R guys have no clue, because the whole business has turned upside down. And not just downloading and the internet. In the late 80's and 90's there were so many record company buy outs and mergers, a lot of top execs got replaced, so rather than music people running the labels, they were replaced by financial guys who's job it was to maximize the stock price.
I had a friends band who was signed to a huge deal with WB, then the company's President was fired, and the band's album went right to the 99 cent bin.
The net result of all these mergers was artist development and long term building of a band went out the window.
Rush's first three albums bombed, their 4th went gold, their 8th went platinum.
Journey's first three albums bombed, their 5th finally turned a profit, their 8th made them super starts.
Fleetwood Mac has 8 albums of so-so sales before Mick found Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks that transformed them into one of the best selling groups.
Major don't do that anymore. You're either a hit, or your gone. Even if you had a hit, if the follow up album bombs, they'll drop you. Which leaves the average A&R person stripped of their power, because the label won't back them up on any long term projects; they either deliver hits or get laid off.
That, and traditionally, A&R people were focused on selling a band in their territory. As discussed, the market place is now global, and you never know if a band will be a hit in Easter Europe or Japan even if it fails in the USA or UK. As opposed to the 70's, where a band might only sell in one part of the USA but not another, and everything was more segmented.