It's tough to talk about *NSYNC without overusing the words "best," "biggest," and "most". They're the world's best-selling band (their No Strings Attached album has racked up over $300 million in sales). Their stage show is the biggest in pop history (the current PopOdyssey tour will entertain more than eight million fans, with the production traveling between arenas in an 88-truck convoy). *NSYNC are, in short, the most successful entertainers of the new millennium.

For a guy who knew what he wanted from life at a young age, Don Cook's career has taken some surprising twists.

"I don't know why I knew so early on that I wanted to write songs," says the affable Cook. "Maybe my parents dropped me on my head. I made my first song demo at age 14. I wish I had a copy of it now, just to have a laugh at it."

Singer/songwriter David Gray has never shied away from change. After cutting his teeth in punk bands as a teenager in Wales, he about-faced into a simple voice-and-guitar style. But after three folk-flavored albums, Gray decided to expand his palette with keyboards, drum machines, and samples on his latest release, White Ladder.

George Pajon, Jr., of the Black Eyed Peas, is that rarest of hip-hop birds: a realtime, flesh-and-fingers guitar player. His creative fretwork and strong stage presence have helped cement the Peas' reputation as one of the genre's most exciting live acts. While many hip-hop groups get their groove exclusively from programmed beats, a Black Eyed Peas gig features generous doses of live instrumental improvisation. "The Peas like to have a lot of freestyling onstage," says Pajon, "so between every song we make up grooves on the spot."

Elliot Scheiner has mixed some of the greatest albums of the last quarter century, including discs by Steely Dan, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Sting, John Fogerty, Van Morrison, and Bruce Hornsby. And now he's mixing some of them all over again.

Terri Lyne Carrington has a unique perspective on jazz history, having played with such bebop and modern jazz giants as Rashaan Roland Kirk, Max Roach, Illinois Jacquet, and Clark Terry-and that was only before she could legally drive.

Composer/keyboardist Linda Martinez has been part of the Yamaha family for over two decades - not a rare distinction, save for the fact that Martinez is only 25 years old.

It's a good thing that Phil Vassar was an ace college athlete-the workout he undergoes at a typical gig falls just a few calories short of a decathlon. "I don't just sit behind the piano," says the Nashville-based singer/songwriter. "I get up. I run around. I spend a lot of time on top of the piano, actually."

It takes guts to walk away from a successful project and attempt something new. But Tim Rushlow, former lead singer of the mega-Platinum pop-country act Little Texas, braves two challenges: his self-titled Atlantic Records solo debut proving himself as a "new" act, and establishing his own songwriting voice.

"We have a saying in my band whenever I put on a CD by someone like Leon Russell or the Miracles," chuckles Rami Jaffee of the Wallflowers. "Someone will always say, 'Rami, is this one pre- or post-Civil War?"

Drummer Peter Erskine started young and never stopped. He played with legendary jazz bandleader/composer Stan Kenton while still a teen, and then went on to collaborate with such greats as Steely Dan, Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Diana Krall, Chick Corea, Kate Bush, Chet Baker, Maynard Ferguson, the Yellowjackets, conductor Simon Rattle, and almost countless others. But despite a discography that reads like a history of modern music, Erskine is a modest soul who stresses the simple things in drumming: Listening. Relaxing. Being human. We recently chatted with Peter about the things that inspire him as a musician.

Before he was producing and writing with some of the biggest names in gospel, pop, and R&B, Marc Harris was a church organist in his native Indiana. And he still makes music with the heartfelt directness of a sermon.

"That's my advice for any songwriter/producer," he says. "Whenever you're given the opportunity to express and exploit your talents, make it count. Remember, in that opportunity lays the chance to change hearts, minds, and lives through the gift of music."

The best songs," says songwriter Paul Williams, "are usually the ones I'm not even sure I should put my name on. I mean the ones that just seem to flow out of my unconscious."

Low-tuned guitars have become terrible trendy among heavy rock bands, but few players dare to go as low as Meegs, ax man of the L.A. metal quartet Coal Chamber.

Drummer for Maze and Christina Aguilera...musical director for 980...currently rocking arenas behind the Backstreet Boys. How did Teddy Campbell rack up so many credits by the age of 26?

When Boz Scaggs says his eclectic new album, Dig, is "all over the map," he's talking about its stylistic breadth. But the words refer just as handily to the city-hopping manner in which Scaggs and his co-producers, Toto keyboardist David Paich and guitarist/studio ace Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar, created the disc. The trio commenced work in Paich's Los Angeles studio, moved on to Kortchmar's home base in New York, and finished the tracks at Scaggs's place in San Francisco.

Pianist Ralph Sharon never set out to be an accompanist. When he left his native London for the States in 1953, he was one of England's hottest jazz instrumentalists. But soon after arriving on these shores, he started working with such jazz greats as Johnny Hartman, Chris Conner, Rosemary Clooney, Carmen McRae and, most notably, Tony Bennett, with whom Sharon has collaborated for over four decades.

.