Matt Scannell is an upbeat, articulate guy who gives the impression he could happily discuss music late into the night. But Vertical Horizons' 29-year-old singer, songwriter, and guitarist morphs into a man of few words when asked to explain why his group's RCA debut, Everything You Want, has generated hit after hit: "Simple, sincere songs."

Do the math. Paul Leim has manned the drum kit for literally hundreds of pop and country hits. More than 125 have been certified Gold or Platinum, and 75 have received Grammy, CMA, Dove, or Academy Awards. Leim estimates that records on which he's played have sold in excess of 200 million units, or well over two billion dollars in sales. Paul has been the drummer of choice for such artists as Shania Twain, Lonestar, Trisha Yearwood, Montgomery Gentry, Peter Cetera, Lionel Richie, Ricky Skaggs, Tom Jones, Randy Travis, Neil Diamond, Reba McEntire, Lyle Lovett, Amy Grant, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker and Michael W. Smith.

In a country scene increasingly centered on the quick crossover hit, Kathy Mattea's music stands out for its uncompromised purity and sincerity. Mattea's 11th studio album, The Innocent Years, may be her most personal disc yet. The West Virginia native contributes some her most touching songwriting to date and takes a bolder production role than ever before. "It's a really emotional record for me," she says. "I feel like I've done a lot of growing up during the process." We recently spoke to Mattea about how the disc came together.

Singer k.d. lang is admired both for her traditional pop and country skills and her restless desire to expand on those traditions. No surprise, then, that her current guitarists, Greg Leisz and Greg Arreguin, are possessed by the same retro-goes-radical spirit.

Singer/songwriter/producer Montell Jordan would be an R&B giant even if he weren't close to seven feet tall. Like clockwork, Jordan has delivered one Gold album per year since exploding onto the scene with the million-selling This Is How We Do It in 1995. Jordan has racked up hits in a variety of styles, from sophisticated, Armani-suited soul to risqué bedroom ballads to full-bore party anthems. Now he's busy at work on album number five.

It's difficult to write about Tommy Sims without wearing out the slash key on your word processor. Too bad there's not a more graceful way to write "producer/singer/songwriter/bassist/guitarist/keyboardist/drummer."

Mike plays a Yamaha Birch Custom Absolute kit, with a Roy Haynes Signature Snare Drum.

He plays them very loud.

Producer, songwriter and keyboardist Alan "Grip" Smith describes his style as "old school/new school." "Old school R&B was really musical, in the sense that it was very chordal and song-oriented," he says. "I try to combine that with the more groove-based, rhythmically syncopated new school style."

When you're one of the most in-demand talents in the ultra-competitive remix field, you can't settle for anything less than the most powerful, high-tech tools, right? Well . . .

It's Sunday, and Saturday Night Live guitarist Lucasz Gottwald is recounting how he spent the previous night: "It was the first show of the season. Besides playing in the house band, I wrote three compositions for this week's show, and Eminem rapped over one of them. Things got hairy in a few places - remember, the show really is live. Last night they were changing the order of the sketches while the show was in progress." Gottwald pauses, then adds, "People regularly lose it."

Even though keyboardist Tim Carmon has played with the likes of B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Babyface, Buddy Guy, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and Macy Gray, he may be best known to millions for his daytime television roles, such as the piano-playing Kip on The Young and the Restless. But Carmon insists that he is always a musician first.

Michael Omartian is not only responsible for producing hundreds of hit records, but also a world record: he is the only producer to have scored number-one records in three decades, the '70s, '80s and '90s.

Michael Bolton, Christopher Cross, Amy Grant, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston, Vince Gill, the Jacksons, Cher, Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Trisha Yearwood, Alison Kraus, Marty Stuart, and Clint Black represent just a fraction of the artists whose records the 54-year-old producer has overseen. He has also co-written many hits, played keyboards for the likes of Dolly Parton, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Julio Iglesias, and Steely Dan, and released several solo albums.

Want a career like Mike Garson's? Playing piano for rock innovators Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, and David Bowie... collaborating with jazz giants such as Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Clarke... composing hundreds of modern classical pieces?

A Perfect Circle guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen commands a well-rounded view of current heavy rock. He sees his band as a natural evolution from '90s progressive-metal groups such as Tool - which just happens to be the other band of A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan. How's that for circular?

Not many musicians have had the opportunity to sit at the feet of the some of the century's greatest musicians the way David Paich has - literally.

"I got a taste of great musicianship at an early age," says Toto's keyboardist, who, being the son of legendary composer/arranger Marty Paich, practically grew up in Hollywood's recording studios in the '60s. "I was fortunate in being able to witness record-making with great artists from age five on. I got to watch people like Lena Horne, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald."

Composer Suzanne Ciani is widely recognized as a bold electronic music pioneer. But younger musicians may not realize just how much boldness she needed to fight the prejudices against female composers that prevailed only a few decades ago.

Drummer/producer Ahmir Thompson is a living link between the digital science of modern hip-hop and the flesh-and-blood textures of vintage R&B. He co-founded the Roots, universally hailed as one of the most sonically inventive hip-hop acts. Meanwhile, his collaborations with such artists as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Common have reasserted the importance of realtime playing in a style dominated by sampling and programming.