I'm often asked my advice about "getting into voice-overs," which can mean anything from animation to promos to commercials to video game voices to books on tape, etc. Most people's enthusiasm for this career quickly fades when they learn how much time and work it will take to earn a living.
I don't think there is a common back story for those who earn their living as Los Angeles animation voice-actors, but I can say they are all excellent actors, a lot of fun to be around, and most have live performing experience and are pretty good with music in some way.
In any case, here's my advice for anyone interested in a career in voice acting:
Study Yuri Lowenthal's "Voice Over, Voice Actor" book. It has tons of info and insight.
Listen to all of Rob Paulson's (free) "Talkin' Toons" podcast available on iTunes. Most of the currently working VO greats talk about their careers and lives (new ones added all the time). Great insight and lots of fun to listen to!
Respect the career you seek: "Thinking about getting into voice-overs" is like "Thinking about becoming an Olympic athlete." There is a path to it for those few who are right for it, but it's much more involved and difficult than most think. It is a sustained project that demands considerable focus, resources and time.
Ask yourself why you want to be an actor. Are you doing this for money or attention or because the business and art of acting are fun and personally fulfilling for you? Are you competitively good enough to make it in a small city? In a big one? Be honest! The work and representation will come your way if it is fun for you and you are good at it and you have yourself together. If it stops being fun, do something else.
An acting degree is not required to be a good or successful actor. Training with a good program can be invaluable to gaining technical and emotional control as an actor. But beware: some drama programs can be an expensive waste of time and money. The academic world too often teaches a sheltered view of the performing arts and ignores the business side of the career. A student can be saddled with massive debt and an inflexible idea of what being a performer can be. I'm more likely to recommend improv or voice-over classes or better yet, any live performing you can do, rather than pay for a drama school degree. I always preferred getting paid to learn. If you love it, just do it!
Starting a voice-over career will take time and money: Setting up shop among established professionals is possible, but like most start up businesses, it will typically take at least a few years to turn a profit, if it ever does.
Be prepared to start back at zero when you move to the big city: Even with a decent resumé, you start over when you move to a bigger market. No matter your talent or experience, you must still earn your connections, your reputation and your career.
Understand that you need more than just "talent" to stand out and sustain a career. Reality TV perpetuates the myth that all it takes to succeed is "talent," and "being discovered." Sorry, you gotta have a long game, not just a short game to be a career actor.
Cultivate patience and flexibility: Your career may well turn out differently that you thought or hoped. You must evolve with your career path and the industry or be selected out.
Consider the company you keep: You become who you hang out with.
Don't mistake what should be your hobby for your career: Find your career at an intersection of what you love and what you're good at (so good that people will actually pay you money to do it). You may not yet know what this is. The intersection of what you love and what you're not that good at is properly called "your hobby."
Prepare for Los Angeles: Get as much live professional (paid) performing experience as possible before moving to Los Angeles. I'd recommend at least a few years. This could be stage, radio, music, standup, or a combination. I think good improv training is particularly helpful. Above all, you must become a good actor-- smart, directable, fun to have in on the party. Your big city launch will be much easier if you have this experience under your belt before moving here.
Study the voice-over demos of your competition: Listen to the demos of currently working voice actors posted on their agents' websites. Your promotional materials must be as good or better as theirs. Never submit mediocre promotional materials. The best demos are brief, avoid redundancy, and above all show you can act-- not just "make voices." Have convincing promotional materials ready when seeking representation so you are good to go and appear professional.
Study up: If you are familiar with both the history of entertainment as well as current pop culture you will find it easier to diagnose an audition and dial up the right tone and pace for your performance. The more you take in the better: plays, musicals, tv shows, movies (old and new) video games, books, comics, and especially cartoons-- all networks as well as feature animation. Know Shakespeare. Know the archetypes of modern pop culture, for these provide the shorthand that directors will use to tell you what they want.
Get a life: Pursue hobbies and activities you love, outside of acting. You need to have more going on for you than just ambition and your career. Nobody wants to cast, let alone hang out with, a boring actor-robot.
Ground your happiness in healthy relationships and doing good work not in whether or not you book a gig.
Get control of your mouth: In addition to becoming a good actor, you must become technically proficient as a voice-actor-- diction, speed, sustainable character, etc. You must also be able to deliver the vocal goods without injuring your voice.
Understand your job at the audition: Your job is to create an irresistible version of what the creator has in mind. You want to leave the room with them wanting more of your creation and more of you. Your audition begins when you walk in the room, not when they begin recording, and it does not end until you have left. Be aware that any gig might be an audition for something else. People hire well-placed confidence. This is what you must bring.
Ask yourself honestly: Why should they cast me? What do I need to bring to this audition that offers them an irresistible proposition? Understand that hiring you can be a considerable risk of their time and money, especially if they don't know you.
Learn from not booking the audition: There are usually good reasons that you didn't book the gig or make the callback. Blaming "chance" is usually a copout. Seek to understand why.
Versatility and range are good but not necessary to work in voice-overs. Some actors succeed doing only one thing very well. Developing specialties is a good thing (e.g. realistic kid voice, foreign languages, accents, impressions, etc).
Embrace the uncertainty of a freelance career: If you have a problem with irregular work, failure and rejection, you might want to consider a less volatile profession. Use failure as a learning tool. Save yourself a lot of time and grief by earning some "personal armor" in a smaller market before going on to battle in the big city.
Protect your health: Your health helps draw people and work to you. Think of yourself as a professional athlete. No one hires sickness or bad energy. Avoid "health vampires--" those who feed off your confidence and positive energy.
Regarding classes: Go with well-recommended, experienced teachers who actively cast, if possible. There is no shame in paying for an audience with "the gatekeeper," if they are constructive and can bring you results. If you are paying to see casting directors, make sure you are ready to make a good impression. The goal of any acting class is not to need that class anymore. Connect with other students who are headed where you want to go. I especially recommend improv training, but make sure it's a good program.
You become who you hang out with.
Defend yourself: Beware the teachers/programs that charge big money only to cut you down or string you along forever. Sadly, a newbie often lacks the life experience needed to spot and defy false gurus. Don't let anyone cut you down personally and never be afraid to tell an experienced or well-respected hack to go jump off a cliff for the right reason.
Be prepared to survive success: Success can be the worst thing to happen to many people. You will need to have yourself together so that you can handle the day when there is no one around you left to say "no" to you-- but yourself.
Get perspective: Either you never really "arrive" or you already arrived a while ago. Quit worrying about it and go do what it is that you do.
Be realistic about the business side of your craft: Moving to L.A. to start a career in voice-overs is like moving to Las Vegas to become a professional gambler. You have a ton of competition, but most lack a grasp of the game and they really just play for the dumb thrill--not for a sustainable winning streak. Tactics and strategy are different depending on if you are there for long-term win or short-term thrills. Your real competition isn't the raw numbers of competitors, but the smart players- those that understand the business as well as the art of professional acting. Your long game must be as good as your short game.
Be bold and decisive: Mere obedience and politeness will not get you very far as an actor. Avoid being recklessly cautious in your acting or life.
Don't navigate your career by fear. Follow the confidence of your mastery of your art.
Driving in LA: Don't get mad at someone else while driving in L.A. Don't text and drive. Check the parking signs carefully or you'll be towed. Seriously.
Don't be a jerk: It may be Hollywood, but the Golden Rule still applies, at least for voice-actors.
Focus on what you have control over: Only you are responsible for your health, your attitude, your happiness and your course corrections. Fretting over what you have no real say in is a waste of mind-space and life.
Be brutally honest with yourself. Accept an honest assessment from a pro for the compliment it is. An honest opinion can be gold.
Respect the pro: his/her time is precious.
Build connections and don't squander them: An essential part of building a career is making professional connections-- earning the trust of those who create and those who cast and work regularly. This will take time. Have the good sense not to ask a well-placed friend or pro to recommend you or "walk in" your mediocre promotional materials. Asking someone to squander their trust and time makes you look like an amateur and will quickly burn bridges for you. Ask when you are confidently ready.
Ask for what you want. Keep asking but don't be a pest about it. Persistence is a vital skill. Don't wanna ask? You ain't gonna get.
Enjoy the ride: Give yourself a break. Reward yourself always. Celebrate victories.
Studio etiquette: Don't wear scents or clanging jewelry to a recording studio. Don't show up sick (they'll pick you up later). Don't wear crinkly fabric or be clicking around on your electronic devices while another is performing. Separate your pages so you don't have to turn them in the middle of someone else's performance. If you are asked to give multiple takes, don't repeat a read-- switch it up each time. Bring a light jacket in case the studio's a/c is cold.
Hope this helps and best of luck!