How does someone get the opportunity to work at Quebec’s biggest venues for artists like Lady Gaga, Enrique Iglesias, Genesis, Roger Waters, and Daddy Yankee?

As a longtime fan of live shows and someone who has always been curious about what goes on behind the scenes, RAC graduate and carpenter Paulina Piñero found herself learning about a whole new world once she stepped behind the curtain. She took some time to speak with RAC about her journey and professional experiences.

Main stage set up for Maluma’s “Papi Juancho” Tour in October 2021

Everything starts taking shape when I start hammering and setting up the trusses; it’s like I’m building a kind of “giant lego“.

Today, Paulina Piñero is incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to be part of the teams that work behind the scenes, building major shows. Even as someone who works backstage as a carpenter or stagehand, she still finds herself marveling at all the organization and resources necessary to make a concert happen.

In 2016, the multitalented RAC graduate and artist didn’t know what to expect when she set foot in the Bell Centre after being contacted to work on setting up a Justin Bieber concert. Their instructions? “Be there at 9:00 AM and bring your steel toe boots, helmet, and tools”. Paulina’s answer?

Paulina: Of course I said yes! I was thrilled because I felt it was so fast; I had just finished school a month before. I had no clue what to expect and what to do! 

Once I showed up, they told me I was part of the video crew. We had to set up the screens and work closely with one of the team leads to set up the lenses for the cameras that would be used during the show. I remember I followed the instructions from the touring crew. I was lost, trying to figure out what was happening, but slowly I started to understand everything that’s needed to build up a show in a limited amount of time. 

Every show is different, and that’s what she loves about this job:

“I’m extremely thankful because we’re always rotating in teams, which can teach you a lot. As a local crew, you’re called in for a show to assist the touring crew on how to set up everything.”

Setting up for Piknic Électronik in 2017, Parc Jean Drapeau

“From taking part in one show setting up lights, to doing carpentry, and then the next time, setting up the stage and props, video, backline, etc.; you always end up learning something new. 

I like how I get to learn new things, it never feels the same. You’re seeing different people, you’re setting up something different each time, and once you see the final results, you realize all the hard work that everybody has put into this.”

But above all, the insatiable festival lover is inspired by the backstage crew, those with whom she works. One of the lessons she’s learned is that communication is key!

“In a hectic environment like a live show, you have to be clear about what needs to be done and ask for help to get it finished.” Otherwise, there’s no show!

Whether she’s backstage, on set, behind the console, handling electrical wires or working with technicians to set up the trusses and motors that would propel Kanye West’s platform during his Saint Pablo Tour, Paulina knows she’s on the right track. However, the path wasn’t always so clear.

Paulina: I always wanted to produce music, but I wasn’t familiar with the entire process. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to learn all about it here at RAC. At first, I wanted to be a recording and mixing engineer. While studying, I was all over the place! I couldn’t make up my mind because each time we were taught something new, I wanted to do that. For one class, we learned the basics of sound reinforcement and setting up speakers, monitors, and how to tune the room. I found that to be the most fun!

When I started working regularly at shows and saw this path becoming a reality, I discovered that I really loved it! I think it was over the summer of 2016 that I started to get a lot of calls. I thought to myself “this is it”. I also thought it was very gratifying and not what I expected, since I imagined I was going to focus on audio. Instead, I’ve been doing many other things.”

Setting up the trusses with the motors that suspended the stage during Kanye West’s Saint Pablo Tour in September 2016

RAC: Besides having Kanye’s life in your hands, what do you like the most when you work as a stagehand, carpenter or tech?

Paulina: There are 2 moments that I like the most during shows:

The first is when we’re at that stage when we’re not fully done, but you see how everything is taking form and you’re getting a better idea of how the show will look like. I also love seeing everybody in their own department working on their tasks, and seeing how things start to make sense. How the stage is going to look, all the lights and how those are set up, the video wall, etc.

The other moment is when you walk into the arena to teardown, and you see the audience walking away or standing and looking at the whole place in awe of what just happened, and how they just got to see their favourite artist. Every time, I’m impressed by the work that everybody puts in to make the audience feel that way.

RAC: Which artist or team did you enjoy working with the most?

Paulina: The team I loved working with the most was when I worked on Kanye’s concert. It took 2 days: one for the load-in and set up, and the second was for the teardown. It was the same year I had started, and the touring crew was extremely nice and taught me a lot. I didn’t get to see the show myself except for the photos of the tour, but it amazed me because it was something out of the ordinary for a stage, props, lights, and a video wall. I also think about the first time I worked as a carpenter on Lady Gaga’s show on her Joanne World Tour. That was another amazing crew that was fun to work with.

Paulina was a carpenter who helped set up stage B and some automated platforms used during Lady Gaga’s Joanne World Tour in September 2017

RAC: Who have you loved seeing live?

Paulina: I went to Carly Rae Jepsen’s concerts twice and I must say she’s one of the best live performers I’ve seen. What a great production and stage design! This year, I finally had the chance to see Wolf Alice. They sound amazing live and I find they have a very powerful stage presence – not that I’m biased because they’re one of my favourite bands… Paramore, Jungle, The Kills, Kraftwerk, and The Sounds are also at the top of my list. 

RAC: To follow up on that, what is your favourite band at the moment?

Paulina: Foals; I’ve been listening to them a lot this year and they released a new album called Life is Yours. Highly recommended!

RAC: Besides working on shows, you have your personal projects and you constantly write and practice your craft. Can you tell us a bit more about your music? 

Paulina: I write and sing all my songs. I’m still navigating genres and learning how to feel more comfortable with my voice, but the music appeals to me. My genre leans more toward a mix of rock and post-punk. 

RAC: Thank you for your time and generosity, Paulina! What’s on the horizon musically for you? What can we expect for 2023?

Paulina: My plan at the moment is to release an EP with songs I have been working on for some time. It will allow me to move forward with what I’ve been writing recently that’s been on hold and to close that chapter of my life. I believe in the end, my two projects won’t have the same sound and style, which is what excites me the most! But I’ll see once I start working on that new phase.

The name of the EP will be Love, Corruption. It’s about navigating relationships and surrounding yourself with people you know are no good, but you want to make sure that there is something good there anyway. Basically, what I call “hitting the wall 3 times just to make sure that it’s actually a wall and it won’t break”. I’d describe it as rock-oriented with some songs that sound a bit messy. For me, it makes a good balance between working with emotions, learning, and how turbulent that can be.

Also, it’s another way of navigating through the emotions that you’re unfamiliar with and learning to be vulnerable –  but there’s always the part of you that likes to sabotage everything. 

Paulina’s Piñero journey in releasing her EP mirrors her professional journey. Her artistic awakening was made up of her willingness and openness to enter a world where she didn’t have any set expectations and couldn’t predict the outcome. Ultimately, she gained so much experience from the people she worked with and discovered something that became an important passion.

Written by Caroline Boivin

Illustration by Yihong Guo