Jason Mraz is one of today's most ceaselessly creative singer/songwriters. Not only has he scored massive hits with each of his three albums--he's done so via songs fueled by witty, literate lyrics and inventive vocal melodies.

Jon McLaughlin is a child of the eighties--literally and musically. On his second Island Def Jam release, 2008's OK Now, the 26-year-old singer/songwriter revels in the elements that defined that decade's pop, from buoyant, hooky vocal melodies and motoric grooves to classic synth flavors.

Kendrick Scott has been infatuated with jazz history for the better part of his 28 years. But as a young jazz virtuoso, he sometimes regrets being born too late to have rubbed shoulders with jazz's founders.

Once upon a time, there was basically one way to make it in the music business: Start small and work your way up. Record a demo, play the clubs, and try to get a deal. Cut an album, get airplay, start touring, and hope for the best.

Talk about a great gig: As bandleader and musical director for NBC's Last Call with Carson Daly, singer/songwriter/keyboardist Joe Firstman jams nightly with a house band consisting of some of LA's finest musicians before an audience of millions.

"Just because you can write music that sounds like a film score, it doesn't make you a film composer," observes multi-instrumentalist Michael Stevens. "Obviously you have to know a lot about orchestration and sequencing, because most people want to hear a temporary cue before you go to record an orchestra. But the most important ability is probably people skills. Being able to work with groups of people as a team. That, and being able to start over and do something else if the director doesn't like it!"

Drummer Adam Topol has been on some remarkable musical journeys, including a recent world tour with Jack Johnson, with whom he's played since the late 1990s. But he's as musically adventurous as he is well traveled: As a solo artist, collaborator, and sideman, Topol has explored an atlas-full of world music styles, with an emphasis on Cuban and Jamaican grooves.

In the past year, singer/songwriter Lucy Schwartz has released a solo album and placed several songs in major film and television productions, including the opening song for a recent remake of The Women. She's won an international songwriting contest, received airplay on trendsetting Santa Monica radio station KCRW, and performed at some of LA's best-known clubs.

The first time you encounter Don Alder's playing, you may be uncertain whether you're hearing a single acoustic guitarist or a small army of Alders. The Canadian virtuoso tackles many parts at once, blending traditional fingerstyle work with extended techniques such as slapped harmonics, fretting over the neck, and mimicking a drum kit by beating the soundboard.

Augustana doesn't do "slick."

"We try to make the show feel like we're all just hanging out in our living room," says frontman/pianist/guitarist Dan Layus. "If the guitar's a little out of tune, it's no big deal. I guess I'm really influenced by that Bob Dylan and the Band sound. Their mistakes are classic, and you really can't imagine the recordings any other way."