Hey, The Kids Like It

Is Sarahah the Music Criticism App We've All Been Waiting For?

The new messaging app all the cool kids are using is called Sarahah. It allows users to anonymously post thoughts/disclosures/confessions about other users on a user-designated wall. Posters unabashedly share their heretofore hidden feelings about others, with the confidence their names will never be exposed, thanks to the app’s iron-clad, un-hackable coding (guess they forgot about that Ashley Madison fiasco).

Sarahah’s revealed secrets generally fall into a few categories. Weirdly, many are good-natured compliments that could (should?) be shared without hiding behind firewalls. “I wanna make babies with you,” and more explicit sexual yearnings are common, of course. And there’s a lot of people bashing. Some are watchdogging the site to see if it simply becomes another portal for online bullying.

Many of the app’s users re-post screenshots of notable messages they've received onto other forms of social media. Because I follow a lot of musicians, I’ve noticed some “Sarahahns” are using the app to critique the music these folks make. Since they’re giving their veiled, unchecked and presumably honest opinions of the music bands are making, can these posts be seen as valuable insight to musicians? Could they take these critiques and use them to improve their work? Should there even be an entire app like Sarahah which focuses solely on music/music industry criticism?

In short, is Sarahah the music criticism app we’ve all been waiting for? The answer is maybe, but probably not.

Glass half-filled, one could see new or young acts getting some needed guidance from veteran musicians by way of the app. The anonymity would allow these experienced players to freely share their knowledge without seeming preachy or overbearing. Across the spectrum, veteran acts that have fallen into giving fans the same, rehearsed show, gig after gig, could be reminded by the faceless to change things up and keep audiences interested. Bands going a different direction or releasing new music could get some unfettered feedback from incognito listeners.

The line between constructive criticism and trolling isn't fine here, it's thick and frequently coarse.

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Dealing true but difficult criticisms is a tough job, especially if it involves a small music community where the players know one another. For instance, last month we asked musicians to discuss what it would take to strengthen a segment of the local music collective that has steadily seen show attendance wane. We asked musicians in the genre to discuss the matter openly and, in the end, only one person came forward with thoughts on how to improve the scene. A forum where people could share their candid opinions fearlessly and anonymously could foster positive change.

The reasons we're pretty sure something like this would fail in music circles naturally have less to do with the app than with its users. The line between constructive criticism and trolling isn't fine here; it's thick and frequently coarse. Over a few days, we saw a user bash a band for having members deemed "too old" to play a certain style of music. A musician shared a post where the messenger questioned the artist's motives (Paraphrasing, "to create art or get laid?"). And there's been plenty of criticism that has less to do with performing than falls to plain and simple hating.

The messengers wouldn't be the only problem here, either. Musicians are often proud, ego-driven creatures. They pour their hopes, strengths, insecurities and weaknesses into their music. It's personal, so no matter how well-intended the criticism is, some are bound to ignore assessments designed to be helpful.

The bottom line is an app has to have users to succeed. Sarahah seems a little silly, a fad that's probably doomed to the same fate as the Myspaces and Everpixes of the world wide web. An app like it that focuses on music criticism would have even fewer users and a shorter shelf-life. The biggest detriment about the app is it doesn't allow a give-and-take. It's just a receptacle of collected thoughts from nebulous entities. There's no chance for receivers to respond to critiques, and without that dialogue, there's no real opportunity to create change for the better.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.