Roads studied composition at the California Institute of the Arts and the University of California San Diego. He is former chair and current vice chair of the Media Arts and Technology Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has previously taught at the University of Naples „Federico II“, Harvard University, Oberlin Conservatory, Les Ateliers UPIC (now CCMIX, Center for the Composition of Music Iannis Xenakis), and the University of Paris VIII.
He co-founded the International Computer Music Association in 1980 and edited the Computer Music Journal from 1978–2000. He has created software including PulsarGenerator and the Creatovox, both with Alberto de Campo.
Since 2004, he has been researching a new method of sound analysis called atomic decompositions, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The first movement of his composition Clang-Tint, „Purity“, uses intervals from the Bohlen–Pierce scale.