How to Make Whoosh Sound Effect
We look at how you can create the iconic and much beloved sound effect from scratch
While impact and whoosh sound effects serve many similar functions as far as editing and storytelling are concerned, there is a scientific principle at the heart of the latter that distinguishes it and give it’s specific characteristics. The doppler effect, named after the Austrian physicist Christian Doppler, is the perceived change in frequency of a (sound) wave in relation to an observer who is moving relative to the wave source. In layman’s terms, what this means is that the sound the listener experiences may sound different in terms of frequency (pitch) as a source approaches (increase) and as it recedes (decrease).
Understanding this phenomenon and applying it to sound design enables us to create breath taking whoosh and pass-by effects - varying from whistling wind whooshes to air ripping engine pass-bys that can substantially improve your edits and transitions.
Creating these types of sound effects from scratch is far from the province of experienced engineers working in sophisticated studios; in fact, you can get started on recording and crafting your very own customised effects using a simple set-up consisting of a microphone (or phone with a microphone) and a computer running basic audio or video editing software.
The principles basically remain the same across platforms as far as technique and standards go, and you can read our related post on recording audio into Final Cut Pro X to get yourself set up. The audio you could be looking to capture can come from virtually anywhere: cars zooming by on a freeway, trains passing on tracks, or a plane passing overhead. Assuming you (and your mic) are the stationary point of reference, any constant sound source passing by you is potentially capable of providing some sort of unique signature that fulfills the criteria and can later be tampered and processed to great effect.
Another great way to capture this type of audio, but without putting yourself in potentially harmful situations is to emulate this highly useful whooshing sound we are all so familiar with within the comfort of your own space using very basic items at your disposal. Not convinced? Try recording the sound of you ripping a piece of paper or running your nails along a (slightly) coarse wooden table. Perhaps you feel confident enough to try a few “hhhhhhhwwwwwoooosh” takes with your own mouth! As with many aspects of sound design, there is no right or wrong - just what fits and what doesn’t. Of course, no-one is expecting you to be a recording expert right off the bat so you’d do well to read up on a few surefire ways to fix common problems you might encounter. As long as you bear in mind and adhere to the fundamental (simplified) principle of the doppler effect - sound source emitting progressively higher frequency - you’re not far off! What this means, practically, if you’re performing any of the above suggested manual sound effects is: start slow and speed up the motion to desired effect.
Whether you’ve caught a perfectly timed car racing past you on a wet highway (a particularly rich and effective sound used in post-production) or just the whisking sound of air forcefully blown out of your own mouth, the chances are you’re next going to need a few basic bits of audio tinkering to get things sounding just right - unless you want your videos inadvertently confusing your audience.
The good news is that even the most basic audio editing software (or the platform you use to edit videos) is usually equipped to perform the basic processing needed to elevate your precious audio to professional quality.
The most effective and basic changes you can make are in the equalisation department; perhaps boosting the bass frequencies to add weight or maybe some shiny high end to help your whoosh cut through the rest of the audio and stand out in the soundtrack. Careful EQing can be an excellent tool in shaping sound but, as with many tools must be used prudently and with a keen ear on what is actually required to actually help the visual narrative. In case you need to brush up on your knowledge of the dark arts of EQing and delve into understanding why certain things sound the way they do, you can check back on our comprehensive post on frequencies in audio.
Another helpful effect that is employed commonly is reverb, which is a great creative and utility tool that provides an intangible sense of depth, fatness, and intrigue; immersing listeners and glueing sounds together.
Trusting your ears is key as you experiment with various parameters and skip through settings in your quest to achieve the desired extra dimension for your whoosh but also balance in your cue. It’s well worth exploring your video editing software’s audio effects capabilities in your in your quest to bring out the best in your SFX.