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Things are going great for the heroes! They are being lauded as the greatest thing since sliced bread, people are throwing them parties and giving them medals, and nothing can knock them down now! But then—something goes wrong. The background music, which had been sounding triumphantly along suddenly falters and peters out. Sometimes the music slows from its normal upswing to a bass line and finally silence. Other times, the various members of the band seem to realize something is going on, and one by one randomly stop playing until its only the one guy—and then he gets it and stops suddenly.

Letting The Air Out Of The Band is a variant of the Record Needle Scratch. Instead of swiftly pulling the needle across the record album, the people running the background music pull the plug on the record player, allowing the turntable to slow until it finally stops rotating.

Ostensibly, this trope shouldn't be played straight anymore because most (if not all) music players these days are digital, and when you pull the plug on a digital player, the music just stops abruptly rather than just fading. Yet it persists due to The Coconut Effect.

Occasionally, a non-musical variant is used in science fiction movies involving marauding robots and world conquering computers. When they are smashed, their voice synths goes from "DESTROY! DESTROY! DESTROY!" to "DE-struuuunh". The same thing happens with answering machines loudly playing back an embarrassing message and any other electronic thingamajig.

As much of a Comedy Trope as the Record Needle Scratch. It's occasionally been used in serious situations, as an indicator that something has gone wrong.

See also Musicalis Interruptus, for the instant version.

Examples of Letting the Air Out of the Band include:


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Anime & Manga

  • Happens in Spice and Wolf, of all shows.
  • At one point in Bleach, Ichigo's Theme Music Power-Up starts up against Aizen, but then cuts out when his attack is blocked.
  • Lucky Star often fades out the background music like this. For example, the cake buffet scene where it fades as the girls go from moaning in delight over all the cake they're eating to moaning in pain as they get full and still have a lot more to finish before their time is up to avoid getting charged for "an excessive amount of leftovers".
  • Used with perfect timing in Kimi ni Todoke. When Sawako starts telling the story of her life, the standard sentimental music plays. It's all very sweet till we see that she spent a lot of time on her own; then the music drags to a stop as she hears herself and, Blue with Shock, wonders if she's killing the mood.
  • Occurs in episode 6 of Gun X Sword, when the episode's villain appears to be starting up his armor, complete with Dann's Theme playing in the background. When it turns out the villains armor is really just a car, the music winds down. Considering how serious the context for the music has been used up until this point, this comes as a humorous surprise to the viewer, even though the idea of mislabelling a car as an armor was brought up previously in the episode.
  • One Piece with Brook and the crew he's part of. They're all dying of a poison (or something of the like), and decide to go out playing 'Bink's Sake'. As the crew slowly succumbs to the poison, each instrument drops out until only Brook is remaining.
  • Persona 4: The Animation has Ebihara Ai suddenly begin to pour out her love in front of Narukami Yu, to suitably stirring music...only to peter out when she clarifies that he isn't the one. "I see."
  • Happens in Amagami at the end of Kaoru's arc.
  • Happens in an episode preview for Umineko no Naku Koro ni when it gets hijacked by EVA-Beatrice.
  • Happens in Zero no Tsukaima
    • In the Season 2 finale when, after seemingly dying in battle against the enemy, Seito is reunited with Louise, during a heartfelt reunion... the music continues... until Saito mentions he was saved by a fairy, after which the music peters out showing Louise's reaction to this
    • In Season 3, Louise is dreaming of her and Saito, while the music plays a dreamy sequence... until an explosion from outside ruins the moment, immediately after which the music slows as we see Louise's irritated face.
  • Has been used a few times so far in Smile Pretty Cure:
    • In the first episode, when Cure Happy first tries to use her Happy Shower attack, the dramatic music that had been playing since her Transformation Sequence comes to a stop in this manner when nothing comes out.
    • Episode 7 features Reika standing on a tower atop Mt. Fuji explaining her reasons for choosing it as their secret base, complete with appropriately dramatic music. Cue the rest of the girls being unable to hear her as the wind sucks the air out of the band.

Comic Books

  • Referenced in 52 when Animal Man, Starfire and Adam Strange have just encountered Lobo
    • "Why am I getting that 'Uh-oh, the pianist just stopped playing' feeling?"

Film

  • Used for dramatic effect in Apollo 13. At the beginning of the mission, the music was full speed, everyone was happy, and all was right with the world. By the time the tape recorder was running out of battery power, the astronauts were in serious trouble.
  • Another dramatic use is in ~2001: A Space Odyssey~ when HAL 9000 sings "Daisy Bell" (better known as the "Daisy, Daisy" song, or "A Bicycle Built For Two"). It is an indicator that HAL's mind is going. He can feel it.
  • Monty Python and The Holy Grail: Happens a few times to the music when the opening credits are interrupted, and also whenever Prince Herbert wants to sing, the music swells, and his dad cries "Stop that! No singing!"
  • Happens in Not Another Teen Movie every time a dramatic moment is made awkward.
    • "No need to wear blindfolds when we're jerking each other off!" * music fizzles out*
  • The film version of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire has a diegetic example with a real brass band playing a celebratory tune for the winner of the Triwizard Cup... which falters out when they notice Harry screaming and crying over Cedric's body.
  • Muppets from Space "Heyyy!! We left Bunsen and Beaker back at the gas station!!"
  • Back to the Future: Someone with a sense of dramatic tension unplugs the jukebox just as Biff angrily marches in to throw George McFly out of the diner.
  • In Blazing Saddles, the townsfolk have a band playing when the new sheriff arrives in town, which peters out suddenly when they see who it is.
  • The Naked Gun had this happen to "Hail to the Chief" when the good guys in disguise showed up in place of the President of the United States.
  • The plug is almost literally pulled on the titular band in Toomorrow -- the no-fun squares running the arts college cut the power on the band as they rehearse without permission in the school commons. But instead of sounding like a bunch of performers trailing off, it sounds like a record slowing to a stop -- underlining the fact that the performers are miming their studio recordings.
  • A similar moment happens in A Goofy Movie as Principal Mazur pulls the plug on Max's lip-synching performance as Powerline so he can impress the girl of his dreams... but then ends up becoming one of the most popular kids in school, JUST BEFORE HE GRADUATES.

Live Action TV

  • Something like this happened once on Lost as a kind of Sorry I Left the BGM On gag... a dramatic song was playing in the background, then the scene shifted to Hurley listening to his CD player, and the song skipped out and stopped in the middle as the CD player ran out of batteries.
  • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up" had this occur with an old-style jukebox, one with real records in it.
  • The Doctor Who story The End of Time does this horrifically: after surviving the Master and the Time Lords, the Doctor thinks he's cheated the four knocks prophecy that had been following him for the past eight/twenty months, and when he realizes Wilf does the knocking, the music fades into the show's now familiar discordant snippet that's code for "oh, shit".
  • Samurai Sentai Shinkenger does it when Richard Brown interrupts the standard roll call sequence.

Music

  • The use of this trope by Aaron Copland in the Hoe-Down from "Rodeo" is occasionally seen as brilliant, and occasionally seen as Narm.
  • The song "Tik Tok" by Kesha uses this effect on the word "tipsy", appropriately enough, as well as the final "shut us dooooown". She uses it a lot in her music, to "Self Bleep" herself and such.
  • Brian Eno did a brilliant version of this trope by having a band, in entirely separate rooms, playing "Nearer My God To Thee." Every single musician was counted in simultaneously, and thus they started in sync, but they were each left to keep their own time thereafter, with the result that they drifted eerily apart, until each one was given an individual dim. to fade. The idea was not to play it for comedic effect, but to recreate the sinking of the RMS Titanic, if someone had managed to record the band as she went under. Hauntingly beautiful, and kinda eerie.
    • That's actually a composition called "The Sinking of the Titanic" by Gavin Bryars, though the original recording was on Eno's label. Bryars's idea is that the band keeps playing even after the ship has sunk, with the sound being dissipated by the underwater acoustics.
  • Spacecorn's trance remake of Gershon Kingsley's/Hot Butter's "Popcorn" (spelled "Popkorn") unexpectedly does this in midriff near the end, then speeds back up.
  • "A Little Bit of Ecstasy" by Jocelyn Enriquez does this at the end of the slow section, before changing back to normal tempo.
  • A minor subversion in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, where an energetic fanfare (based on the French Marseillaise) gradually becomes slower and deeper, but increasing in volume, switching from strings to brass, until the music is reduced to a heavy, pounding beat ... which suddenly explodes into a triumphant reprise of the opening theme, complete with church bells ringing. Crowning Music of Awesome ensues.
  • A variation occurs in Haydn's Symphony 45, the "Farewell" symphony: During the final movement, each member of the orchestra gets up, one by one, and leaves the stage, whittling down to a final, barely audible violin finish. Of course, this was one of the first true Protest Songs, as Haydn and his orchestra were chafing at being held at their patron prince's summer castle while leaving their wives at home.
  • Peter Schickele played with this in one of his concerts - the orchestra played an introductory chord when he walked onstage, and then played it again a few seconds later when he was about to stop talking, and then played it again after another few seconds, over and over again until he went over to a wall and unplugged a wire, at which point the chord they were in the middle of playing "deflated". Then he plugged it back in, and they "reinflated" and finished the chord.
  • Done by Kiss at the end of "Black Diamond". They were slowing the tape down, so it gets MUCH deeper and slower.
  • The Protomen do it in "The Fall", a musical number which depicts a major character's suicidal charge to destroy the Big Bad once and for all. The entire piece is a triumphant fanfare building to a crescendo, until the music utterly deflates at the very end as the hero's sacrifice turns out to be in vain.
  • Done at the end of "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen, when it turns out that the guy she's singing to is homosexual.
  • Done at the end of "Beautiful Girls" by Sean Kingston, to reflect the final words of the song: "You'll have me suicidal, *the background music trails off* suicidal, *the vocals follow suit* suici--"
  • Sonata Arctica works this trope nicely into the beginning of "Wildfire Part 2, One with the Mountain". When the song begins, the listener hears the sounds of a tavern with a little folk song playing in the background (a remixed version of Wildfire Part 1). Suddenly the individual responsible for the chaos in Wildfire Part 1 trudges into the tavern, and the air is let out of the band.

Theater

  • One that most definitely comes to mind is in the musical The Drowsy Chaperone where they are at the penultimate crescendo of the score, and we are just about to hear the final glorious notes, when Man in Chair's apartment blows a fuse and the super comes to fix the breakers (he had been calling him for a while, but Man in Chair never answered as he was still finishing the show). The entire cast is frozen in their tracks even as he shines the flashlight in their faces. The super eventually fixes the breaker just in time for a Theme Music Power-Up, and we hear the musical's final notes. However, because of the power outage that happened, the moment is ruined.
  • A live-band variation of this happens in The Book of Mormon. One very sudden LTAOOTB cluster in the number "Two By Two," where Elders Price and Cunningham receive their mission in Uganda, which is much to Price's dismay and chagrin, due to his preference of Orlando, and one much more gradual example after the song "You and Me (But Mostly Me)," as the scene changes to a gloomy, poverty-stricken Uganda.

Video Games

  • Final Fantasy V uses this a few times, most notably when you first try to fly on the black chocobo. Key word being 'try'.
  • Used as a tension breaker/builder in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Echoes of Time, the party reaches the end of a library-themed dungeon and runs into a spacious arena-style gallery as the boss fight music strikes up, then peters out as the heroes look around and no boss monster is evident. Of course, then one of the bookcases grows teeth and claws, and the boss battle music kicks in for real as it attacks.
  • Chrono Trigger does this twice with Ozzie. The first time you meet him, he brings up a series of monsters with a crank, and they drop onto a conveyor belt. The battle music starts, and your characters even get into their battle poses... then the enemies fall into a pit at the other end of the conveyor belt. Insert "record winding down" sound here. Then, the second time you meet him, the boss theme starts playing, and then a small cat comes in and trips a lever, and the boss theme fades out as Ozzie drops into the Bottomless Pit.
    • Possible third time: if you lose the race against Johnny, the music breaks down.
  • Donkey Kong 64: Watch around 2:08 to 2:30 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KIObmo4rSM
  • In New Super Mario Bros Wii, as you beat Bowser and save Princess Peach, the victory music drags to a stop as she reveals herself to be Kamek the Magikoopa in disguise. He then promptly supersizes Bowser for a second round.
    • Also applies in multiplayer if all the players trap themselves in bubbles, whether by pressing "A" or respawning in one after losing a life, or the remaining players on screen put themselves in a bubble at the same time to avoid death.
  • In Super Mario 64, the effect is reversed on the Game Over screen by having the Super Mario Bros. theme build slowly from nothing.
  • In Mario Kart 64, finishing a Grand Prix in fourth will cause the music to turn to minor, then do this.
  • A decidedly not comedic version appears in Super Mario Galaxy, during the second-last chapter of the storybook. The music plays as normal, a calm, soothing nursery tune, even during the most heartbreaking scene yet where the unnamed girl living at the observatory gets homesick, being particularly sorry she can't visit her favorite tree. It's all quite sad, though not altogether unexpected for the storybook, until we find out the reason she's so attached to the tree is because her beforehand unmentioned mother is buried under it. Cue the music stopping, and not coming back until the next chapter.
  • Happens when you fail a song in Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II.
  • The music your rides play in Rollercoaster Tycoon do this whenever they break down. Actually justified with the carousel, as they often contained mechanical organs that ran on compressed air. The various other styles of recorded looping music that other rides can be set to play... not so much.
    • Inverted when the carousel breaks down due to a control failure. The music speeds up while the carousel spins rapidly, trapping the riders.
  • In the original F.E.A.R. has a sparse soundtrack, but sometimes major set-piece battles have great dramatic music swell to emphasise them. If the player is killed during them however, the BGM slows and stops in a comical fashion.
  • Happens in the original Fable, if you try to remove the sword in the stone outside the Temple of Avo when your character isn't strong enough.
  • Happens in Super Mario RPG when your party is defeated.
  • Happens to the sad music in Chapter 5 of Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door once the gang realizes that Bobbery's just sleeping.
  • In Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara, it happens after you beat the goblins' War Machine. When they try to ram you one last time but automatically miss, the contraption rolls right off a cliff. It pauses in the air long enough for the music to start wobbling to a halt, then it plummets along with all the goblins. You even get to hear it crash at the bottom.
  • You can actually invoke this, if you want, in Mother 3 while playing as Salsa. Once he learns the dance that opens the door in Osohe Castle, as you approach the door, the start-up to what would be the main melody of the dance plays. However, press the wrong button, and...
  • In Myst III: Exile, this happens with part but not all the music when you trap Saavedro between the shields.
  • Happens in a cutscene in Starcraft II: in a Bar Brawl, an enraged Tychus Findlay rips the cantina's jukebox from its socket overhead, causing the music to warp and die out. The scene then plays out without music for a while, returning when Raynor gets the upper hand.
  • Kirby's Epic Yarn and Kirbys Return to Dream Land do this, the former after beating the final boss's first form and the latter after finding a major plot coupon that is suspiciously unguarded.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, upon entering the Spirit Temple's boss room and encountering another Iron Knuckle, the by-now familiar mini-boss BGM starts up as it reaches for its battle axe and prepares to attack... only for it to suddenly taper off as the Iron Knuckle realizes it is unarmed. It promptly snaps its fingers and summons its axe out of thin air, which cues the music to start again.
  • Done in Mega Man 7's introductory cutscene when Auto gives Mega Man a Metool helmet instead of his trademark blue helmet.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • The use of this trope in the cartoon series Sheep in The Big City was blatantly periodic and continual. Not only did it happen in every episode, but it also happened every five minutes.
  • Disney's Mulan has an awful, jarring, highly effective twist at the end of Ear Worm "A Girl Worth Fighting For":

 Ling: Wish that I had...

Crew: A girl worth fighting--

[All catch sight of blood-red sky and village burned down to the ground. Music echoes then dies.]

  • SpongeBob SquarePants does this a few times:
    • In "Tea at the Treedome" as SpongeBob unspectacularly returns to his seat after triumphantly convincing himself that he doesn't need water to live.
    • A quicker variation occurs twice in a row in the first "Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy" episode, the first time being when MM and BB screw up putting their rings together, and the second time being when they succeed in the aforementioned action but MM briefly forgets to say the oath.
    • In "Squid's Day Off" as Squidward realizes that he's wasting his time running back to the Krusty Krab
    • In "Squidville" during the montage of Squidward's life in Squidville quickly becoming a rut.
    • In "Dunces and Dragons" as SpongeBob tires himself out running up Plankton's extensive stairway.
  • In The Ren and Stimpy Show, Ren is hit by a tranquilizer dart, and as his voice slows down the music does too.
  • In the Tex Avery short "Lucky Ducky", the characters run past a sign that reads "Technicolor ends here" and into a black-and-white setting, and as they stop running the music dies down to nothing. As the chase resumes, the background music fades in again.
    • Avery did it in "Dixieland Droopy" as well, most noticeably as "John" runs through goopy cement and the flea band slows down, strains, then returns to normal when he extricates himself.
  • Happens on The Little Mermaid at the end of the song introducing Triton's daughters, when Ariel is a no-show. It's more clear on the soundtrack recording.
  • In Dumbo, a trumpet fanfare follows Timothy's announcement that he will make Dumbo into "Dumbo the Great". Then he asks "The Great what?", followed by a half-hearted "wah-wah-waah"
  • In Cartoon Planet, Space Ghost is asked by a fan letter how he became so funny. As he attempts to tell a joke to demonstrate his humor, it falls flatter as he goes on, with the music slowing tempo to match.
  • On Family Guy, Peter has a band so they can play Full House Music during an appropriate moment with his father. They start when his dad says he loves his son only to stop when he adds that he doesn't like anything about him. Peter tells them to keep playing as that is the best he can probably get.
  • The Megas XLR episode "All I Wanted Was A Slushie" brings us REGIS Mk. V, a Large Ham regenerating robot with his own Leitmotif. When Coop finally manages to defeat him by cutting off his power supply, his leitmotif slows at the same rate as he does.
  • This segment of the Looney Tunes "Back Alley Oproar".
  • The third act of Disney's Aladdin starts once the title character has won the heart of the princess, exposed the traitorous Jafar, and come to realize that now he'll actually be expected to take over as Sultan someday. The Genie thinks it's time for a victory celebration and bursts into a rousing rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever, only to trail off when Aladdin just slumps past him, oblivious.
  • Done in the Adventure Time episode "Prisoners of Love". Finn tries to spear the Ice King with a beat-up old flute. Dramatic music plays as Finn hurls it through the air, but peters out as the flute falls apart in mid-flight and lands in pieces at the Ice King's feet.
  • Thundercats did this in an episode where Mumm-ra learns how to manipulate time and energy. Cheetara does her speedy thing with her usual triumphant horn motif, only to have it slowly trail off sadly as she slowed down to a stop.
  • In South Park, in the season one episode "Tom's Rhinoplasty". When Mr. Garrison comes back to school, Wendy is relieved because she thinks that means the end of the class's substitute teacher Miss Ellen. Cue the happy fanfare music. Then Mr. Garrison announces he's quitting his job as a teacher. Cue fanfare music deflating like a tire.
  • Throughout the first episodes of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic the background music hits a sour note whenever anypony refers to wanting to be the anti-social Twilight Sparkle's friend.
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