Unless a work is going for pure Minimalism, most will have some degree of Background Music playing. The music sets the tone of the scene, breaks up what would otherwise be scenes of awkward silence, and is often just very fun to listen to. It's expected, and helpful for keeping the audience interested in the work. And, while the music doesn't have to be constant, the basic expectation is that it'll keep playing throughout the scene, at least.
So, when the music comes to a sudden stop, the change is jarring. This makes it a good way of getting the audience to pay more attention. Whatever is happening during this pause, whether it's an entire scene set to nothing but ambient noise or just a brief beat, the meaning and impact of the scene will be made all the stronger by the lack of music.
There are several reasons for this, such as:
- The music going silent in order to act as emphasis for whatever's happening in the scene.
- To evoke feelings of tension, dread, or horror.
- To make the audience laugh, especially when occurring as the anti-climax to a musical or in-universe build-up, usually preceded by a Record Needle Scratch.
- To deliberately break the flow of the scene and jar the audience out of the moment.
- A prelude to an Eureka Moment.
- To echo what's happening in-universe, to give the audience and character the sense that they're "missing something".
- To act as general Mood Whiplash, especially if the scene was upbeat beforehand.
- If the scene is meant to be this quiet in-universe.
Similarly, this can be done with actual silence, or an eerie ambiance that mimics silence, as long as it's jarring and works to change the tone of the scene.
For complete silence in-universe being used as a sign of danger, see It's Quiet... Too Quiet. Compare Moment of Silence, for when silence is used to give more emphasis to a character's death, Shell-Shock Silence, which is when things go silent save for ringing or humming after an explosion, and Silence Is Golden. When applied to credits, you have Silent Credits. See also Musicalis Interruptus and Letting the Air Out of the Band for in-universe examples of music being cut-off, and Record Needle Scratch. Contrast the Jump Scare, which often involves a period of silence followed by a jarringly loud noise.
- Exaggerated in Attack on Titan. The series normally has a robust soundtrack that plays through each episode, but episode 55 "Midnight Sun" completely skips over the opening and dives right into the episode. There is no music at all throughout the entire episode, which notably sets the tone in the aftermath of the Battle of Shiganshina, and the moral dilemma of making a Sadistic Choice to save the life of one of two well-established and important characters.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: When Madoka is about to make a contract with Kyubey, the song "Sis Puella Magi", which often accentuates important plot points, is playing quite loudly. It seems like a climatic moment, and then... The music instantly halts as time is briefly frozen, and the next shot is of Kyubey full of bullet holes.
- Senryu Girl: Nanako communicates strictly in written poetry. Kino communicates strictly through drawings. In the anime adaptation, the background music goes silent to convey what observing a conversation between the two of them is like.
Amane: They seem excited, but...
Eiji: It's weirdly quiet...
- Cinderella: Except for a few stings for punctuation, most of Lady Tremaine's introduction (where she gives Cinderella a list of chores for the day) is almost completely silent, emphasizing that she's not a villain to be taken lightly.
- Big Hero 6 has this done in a Played for Drama moment:
Hiro: Tadashi IS GONE! (the soundtrack suddenly stops) Tadashi is.... gone.
- In Frozen:
- When Anna is cursed and needs an act of true love. Her fiance Hans leans in, both pucker, and romantic music swells, and then the music stops right before he reaches her lips.
- During the "Whiteout" scene while all the main characters scramble around frantically in a blizzard, the score conveys a sense of urgency. But when Anna sacrifices her life to save Elsa's, the music suddenly stops, letting the audience feel a sense of loss, the only sounds being Elsa's sobs.
- Mulan uses this for Mood Whiplash. The soldiers are singing "A Girl Worth Fighting For", a song about how they really miss their girls (or at least, the chance to hit on women). The last line suddenly stops on "A girl worth fighting-" coupled with shocked expressions from the cast. The camera then shows what's got them so spooked: they were too late to save the village they were headed to protect.
- In The Addams Family, Gomez and Morticia are having a tragic-romantic moment, complete with kissing and French, when their enemy abruptly ruins the moment (along with the music that accompanies it) and Gomez is ordered to get the money already.
- Back to the Future Part III: The swelling, heroic Back to the Future theme stops and restarts more than once to accentuate Marty pummeling "Mad Dog" Tannen during their final fight.
- Crazy Rich Asians: During the wedding scene, the film is momentarily completely silent when Araminta steps onto the fairy-lit, flooded, flower-covered aisle in her beautiful wedding dress, emphasizing how stunning and sweet the set-up is.
- Gravity often cuts off the music to mark Ryan transitioning from spacewalking to inside a spacecraft and vice versa.
- The Lord of the Rings:
- Return of the King uses this in the Battle of Minas Tirith. As the Rohirrim charge towards the oliphaunt-riders of Harad, there is heroic music, which then stops abruptly the moment the horsemen are swept away or trampled by the gigantic war beasts.
- In one of the many, many extras for The Two Towers, the music swells heroically and then abruptly fades out as Billy Boyd wearily recounts his experience filming the scenes with the Treebeard puppet:
Billy Boyd: They used backwards bicycle seats [for us to sit in], and for that they found the most uncomfortable bicycle seats in New Zealand.
Dom Monaghan: I don't think Weta had any concept of men having testicles, and by the time we were through I didn't either.''
- Stardust uses this on a couple of occasions, notably when Tristan attempts to jump aboard a coach: the music builds to heroic proportions, only to cut off when he slams into the side of said coach and falls flat on his rear.
- Star Wars:
- Attack of the Clones has a slight variant of this: when Anakin and Padmé first kiss, their Love Theme swells... and instantly fades out when Padmé hurriedly breaks the kiss.
- The Last Jedi: During the climactic battle, the tense background music cuts out completely as Holdo rams her cruiser into the First Order Mile-Long Ship Supremacy at lightspeed, cutting it in half. This is a visually stunning moment that also buys the rebels critical time. When the film was first shown in cinemas, many of them put up a notice warning the audience that the soundtrack would cut out at one point for fear that people would think that the sound had failed and complain.
- Thor: Ragnarok: Played for comedic effect.
- Ominous music is playing while Surtur talks about his destiny being to destroy Asgard, but stops when Thor interrupts him because the chain he's hanging on is making him turn around.
- When Thor tries to make a dramatic exit in front of Valkyrie by smashing a window in Hulk's room with a giant ball, the Ragnarok theme starts to play but abruptly stops when the ball instead bounces back and smashes into Thor's head.
- What a Girl Wants, where Lord Henry Dashwood plays some wild air guitar in leather pants until his fiancee walks in on him, bringing the dancing and the music to an abrupt halt.
- About ten minutes into Zoolander, the main character's best friends are trying to cheer him up with a trip to the gas station for drinks. The scene itself is very cheerful and Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" only makes the scene seem happier. The mood ends quickly and dramatically when the song fades out in a distorted fashion and all four of his friends die in a "freak gasoline fight accident."
- Arrow: In the 9th Episode of season 3, entitled "The Climb", Oliver must face Ra's Al Ghul in a duel to the death using swords. The fight begins with Ra's unarmed while Oliver has two blades. Ra's dominates the fight, taking one of Oliver's blades during the battle. Oliver seems outmatched when music of worry starts to play as our hero is held to a standstill at the end of a sword at around 40:43... suddenly at 40:48 Oliver uses his remaining sword to parry Ra's blade and mount an offensive. The music of concern gives way to optimistic music. Oliver is mounting his comeback and the song has almost gone full-on Arrow theme music.... which is abruptly stopped when at 40:53 Ra's uses his bare hand to stop Oliver's sword mid-swing. Ra's punches him in the throat, slices his abdomen, monologues, stabs him through the chest, and kicks him off the side of a mountain. Oliver dies from his injuries. He gets better.
- Played for Laughs in Buffy the Vampire Slayer "The Zeppo" when Faith seduces Xander in a montage of pretty tv sex with mood music playing over writhing sheets reflected in a tv screen, post-coital cuddling - which comes to an abrupt halt when she shoves him half-dressed out the door. There's a beat where the only sound is crickets chirping. Then Xander walks away.
Faith: That was great. I gotta shower.
- Doctor Who: In "The Pandorica Opens", as the Universe is destroyed the background music stops, mid-note.
- In Live Forever As You Are Now with Alan Resnick, upbeat background music plays, as would be expected during an infomercial. However, whenever Alan's digital clone Teddy speaks up, the tone has a temporary shift from comedic to unsettling, and it's underscored with the background music being replaced with a subtle ambiance. Once these scenes are cut, the normal music comes back.
- May I Please Enter?:
- The Cowboy narrates over an upbeat montage of him seeing the house, only for the music to suddenly turn eerie and ambient when they're in the hallway, making things feel all the more unsettling even before the scene takes a turn into Surreal Horror.
- Later, Amy and John show off their collection of "animated sayings". The music suddenly goes quiet the Cowboy is told they got these "animated sayings" online.
- The trio are enjoying some snacks and conversation, when the music- and the conversation itself- goes silent after the Cowboy brings up politics.
- In Unedited Footage of a Bear, one of the first signs that something is very wrong is when the cheerful ad music suddenly fades away, leaving nothing but the sounds of Donna's car and the ad-announcer's voice coming quietly through the radio.
- Tag Team breakups where one of the wrestlers turn on their partner(s) involve the music of the winner of the match being interrupted while the attacker begins to attack their former partner(s).
- Surprise attacks from another wrestler towards the winner of the match also involve the music being cut.
- Dolph Ziggler's usual theme music plays but as he enters the stage, the music fades out and stops with no Tron or lights at all, save for a spotlight meant for Ziggler himself.
- Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812: In "Pierre and Natasha", Natasha is recovering physically, mentally, and emotionally from her lowest point in the show. At one point in the song, the background music cuts out completely so Pierre can tell her that if he were a better and unmarried man, he would ask for her hand in marriage and her love. To emphasize the tenderness of the moment, this is the only spoken line in what is otherwise a sung-through musical.
- Doki Doki Literature Club!: For much of the game, background music plays to set the tone. However, there are a few moments of sudden silence, often occurring alongside important dialogue and before a shift in both music and mood. The most notable examples would be:
- The entirety of the Festival Day, where after MC and Sayori have a major talk about her depression and their feelings for each other, the music completely stops, only coming back a few scenes later, when Sayori is found hanging in her room, and the game undergoes a Genre Shift into psychological horror. In this moment, it works to bring a feeling of unease.
- The second major stretch of silence comes when Yuri stabs herself, and the player has to spend an entire weekend with her decaying corpse. The scenes following the death are completely, musically silent, and the next time there's any sort of music, it's after Monika restarts the game, with just her and the player.
- In Ace Attorney, when you present the right contradiction to a statement, the background music briefly goes silent to enhance the drama of the moment as the protagonist explains the objection, after which a triumphant tune plays. This functions as a Musical Spoiler, as a player who is Trying Everything only needs to wait to see if the music goes quiet to know if they've found the right answer. However, in one occasion that was subverted - after the correct contradiction is found, the music continues to play for a few lines until Phoenix confirms he's definitely sure of himself, a trap for players who weren't so confident.
- Happens often in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night when you enter a boss room. The sudden silencing of the BGM is supposed to clue you in that something bad is about to go down, even if you don't immediately see the boss.
- Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled: In the track Oxide Station, during the large jump in outer space, the soundtrack will momentarily go silent until you land.
- Drawn to Life: Before the player sets off on their penultimate level, a cutscene shows the mayor being attacked and killed by Wilfre. After this moment, the background music is temporarily replaced with empty sounds of wind, and the player has no choice but to continue with the game. After the level is beaten, the music remains gone until the player goes to find the mayor's body, and it comes back afterward for the climax.
- Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria Simulator: Played for Black Comedy in the Ball Pit playtesting minigames, where Helpy must jump from a springboard to land in said ball pit below. While the minigame's tone is just as lighthearted as the pizzeria tycoon half of each ingame day, causing Helpy to miss will result in him hitting the floor and breaking his back with a nasty crunch. The music immediately stops playing at that moment, with poor Helpy lying motionless on the floor for a few silent, uncomfortable seconds before suddenly snapping back to good shape like nothing happened.
- Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey: The music in this game never stops playing, except for one moment. In one sidequest, one of the Red Sprite's crew members confesses that he has fallen in love with the demon. To cover up for the Heroic Mime protagonist's apparent silent reaction, the music goes quiet in his stead.
"Hey, what's up with the sudden silence?"
- Super Metroid: In the opening cutscene the intro theme plays throughout Samus handing the baby Metroid over on Space Station Ceres, then when she leaves the station said theme stops dead when she picks up a distress signal and has to fly back.
- Played with in Final Fantasy XIV: In the boss fight with Alexander Prime there are several moments where time gets stopped completely and the players are frozen - the BGM isn't cut entirely but it's replaced for the duration with a quiet track and a beeping noise, before picking up where it left off when time resumes flowing normally.
- Cat Ghost: In "Judgement", the looping music stops at several moments, emphasizing the character's responses to questions, either due to noteworthy responses, or just to add some blunt comedy. Lines spoken during these moments include:
- Elon's statement that the woods are a bad place nobody should go into.
- The sudden interruption by the skinwalker.
- Naarah's long pause and harsh "No" when asked if the name "Beth" meant something to her.
- Elon's claim that she wanted Naarah to leave when they first met.
- Elon and Naarah gagging when asked what "libation" is.
- Kyle Patrick and Alexis Ruiz answering a question as themselves.
- Don't Hug Me I'm Scared: At many points in the series, a moment of silence or ambiance is used to underscore just how unsettling the events in the seemingly kid-friendly show actually are, just before the music comes back like nothing ever happened. Two examples include:
- The moment in "Episode 1", where the music stops so the audience can only hear Yellow Guy's clown painting being covered in oil. This is one of the first points where it's made clear that something is very wrong.
- In "Episode 3", There's a long, silent moment where Duck Guy does nothing but stare at the camera after speaking, just before the song starts up again, making the entire episode feel even more unsettling.
- Pikasprey: The background music in his reviews will go silent to emphasize his reaction to whatever is happening, most often a quick and blunt line-of-dialogue that clashes with the original tone of the scene.
- The Weather: Some scenes involve the Wham City member speaking with swelling music in the background...which goes silent every time their caller speaks up.
- Castlevania (2017): During Trevor and Alucard's duel, the former finds himself overpowered by the Dhampir's Super Strength. Being a Combat Pragmatist, Trevor opts to even the battlefield with a Groin Attack... to which Alucard doesn't even react. Even the music pauses to the absurdity of this scene.
Alucard: This isn't a bar fight. Have some class.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "The Best Night Ever," Pinkie's disco music cuts off suddenly when Rarity is hit in the face with a layer cake.
- In the Catalan sport/cultural tradition of castells (human tower building), the construction and dismantling of the towers is accompanied by a traditional melody played on shrill woodwinds and drums. Besides providing atmosphere, the music tells the castellers what stage the construction has gotten to, as they can't see the castell while they're in it. However, if the castell collapses, the music stops instantly. The effect is heartstopping.